Nick Nolte

48 Hrs. (1982, Walter Hill)

About seventy minutes into 48 Hrs., Nick Nolte apologizes to Eddie Murphy for the racial slurs he’s been calling him since Murphy showed up in the movie. Nolte’s just doing his job, he explains, “keeping him down,” which is an unintentionally honest moment about cops and Black men. Murphy nods to it, but says, “that doesn’t explain all of it,” and Nolte sadly agrees. He’s just a racist White cop. There’s only so much he can do.

At this point in the film, Nolte and Murphy are buddies. 48 Hrs. is an eighties buddy cop movie after all. Even if the first act is a bad but mildly amusing riff on a Dirty Harry movie, introducing hard-living rogue copper Nolte, who just happens to have a sophisticated girlfriend, Annette O’Toole. O’Toole’s pointless in the film, which ends up being fine because the movie’s literally got nothing for her. She gets maybe one good line—which isn’t bad for the supporting cast; outside Nolte and Murphy, not many good lines in the film… you’d think with four screenwriters on it and at least three of them desperate to be iconic, there’d be some good lines thrown around.

Not really. In fact, when O’Toole gets hers’, it’s a surprise because it’s on the end of a bad conversation. The writing on O’Toole and Nolte is awful. Somehow they’re likable together, but not because of anything in the dialogue. Or maybe the scene where much shorter than Nolte O’Toole follows him down the hallway and it’s cute is an accident. 48 Hrs. is not successfully directed, so it’s hard to give Hill much credit other than keeping the trains running on time. Even if it does start really dragging at the end of the first hour, after Nolte and Murphy have just had a fistfight to kill time, followed by the threat of another fistfight.

So the movie opens with Sonny Landham breaking James Remar out of prison. He’s on a chain gang. Hill gets to pretend it’s Cool Hand Luke for a shot or two and the James Horner music is really, really good, but then things start to fall apart once Remar escapes and leaves a guard behind to call it in. The calling it in is a bunch of expository nonsense; 48 Hrs. frequently reminds of plot points in the first hour. It’s like the screenwriters were leaving notes for each other where to pick up. Not a smooth script. Not good dialogue script, not a smoothly paced script. Thank goodness for Eddie Murphy and Horner and cinematographer Ric Waite.

Nolte tags along on a routine call with Jonathan Banks, who’s great and sets a way too high standard for the cop acting in the movie, only they’re not prepared for Remar and Landham and Remar ends up with Nolte’s gun. So Nolte has to go get Eddie Murphy out of jail—Murphy and Remar used to do jobs together—so Murphy can help Nolte find Remar. That sequence of the film, outside Murphy’s introduction, isn’t good. It’s way too perfunctory and doesn’t do anything to transition affable tough jerk Nolte from the opening to the cruel racist who’s going to be berating Murphy for the next thirty or so minutes. If the film had just stuck to its convictions and had Nolte be as vocally racist as he appeared… it’d be taking a position on something. But those are questions for non-buddy cop movies so you get the laughs you can. The first turn for Nolte comes during Murphy’s big set piece in a redneck bar. It makes it seem like 48 Hrs. has its set pieces down… but then the fistfight in the streets because the guys are tired is a few scenes later and it’s clear the movie’s got no idea.

The second act ends with a bad chase sequence in a subway station, but at least Hill’s got to try because there’s so much going on, followed by a song montage with Murphy dancing with a girl and Nolte driving through San Francisco to meet him to kick off the third act, which quickly leads to a stole bus sequence, then there’s the big Chinatown finale. So much action. And all of it middling or worse.

During the Chinatown chase sequence, it’s obviously not the three editors’ fault—though earlier some things are definitely their faults—it’s Hill not knowing how to direct the sequence.

Hill’s… a peculiar director for the film. He’s humorless, he’s got terrible instincts with performances: Nolte’s never good, just more mediocre at times than bad, Remar’s disappointing, David Patrick Kelly’s annoying, Brion James’s annoying–Frank McRae’s yelling police captain is worth walking out of the movie on—other than Murphy… nobody’s actually good. McRae and James aren’t in the movie very much and shouldn’t able to mess it up, but they do. Banks and O’Toole get off easy with “too small” roles.

The James Horner score keeps it interesting for the first forty or so minutes, until the way the movie positions Murphy and Nolte gets a little more tolerable, Ric Waite’s photography is good enough in the first act you wonder what happened later on. There are a lot of obvious insert shots in 48 Hrs.—McRae doesn’t even appear to be in the same room with the other actors in his big scene—and they never match. Technically, 48 Hrs. asks for a lot of indulgence. The music’s not good enough to cover it all.

I mean, the San Francisco scenery does do quite a bit of the lifting. I’m not sure the movie could get away being so thin anywhere else.

It’s ostensibly a Nolte vehicle, which starts as a fine one, turns into a terrible one, but then turns into an adequate one for Murphy. Not all of Murphy’s scenes are good. Maybe a quarter of them fail. But the successful ones are big hits.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Walter Hill; written by Roger Spottiswoode, Hill, Larry Gross, and Steven E. de Souza; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Freeman A. Davies, Mark Warner, and Billy Weber; music by James Horner; production designer, John Vallone; costume designer, Marilyn Vance; produced by Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Nick Nolte (Jack Cates), Eddie Murphy (Reggie Hammond), James Remar (Ganz), Sonny Landham (Billy Bear), Annette O’Toole (Elaine), Olivia Brown (Candy), David Patrick Kelly (Luther), Brion James (Kehoe), Jonathan Banks (Algren), James Keane (Vanzant), and Frank McRae (Haden).


The Mandalorian (2019) s01e07 – The Reckoning

This episode feels like old home week—even though “The Mandalorian” is only on episode seven, it’s been in the weeds for three episodes so even the promise of Carl Weathers (who’s no better than before, though also no worse) at least reminds of when the show didn’t disappoint.

Better, though kind of pointlessly, Gina Carano is back. Weathers shows up at the beginning in a hologram message to tell Pedro Pascal if he comes back they’ll kill Werner Herzog together and Pascal can stop worrying about bounty hunters going after Baby Yoda. It’s peculiar how trusting Pascal is about Weathers—even though Pascal tells Carano he doesn’t trust Weathers, there’s no indication Pascal behaves any differently (other than bringing along Nick Nolte’s also returning ugnaught for “backup”) than he would otherwise.

Jon Favreau’s not the… smartest writer. It’s actually kind of amazing how far he’s gotten with the show given he’s never really on the ball, characterization-wise. It’s like he’s intentionally leveraging “Star Wars shallow,” which is fine as it compensates for Favreau’s lack of ability.

Really this episode gets away with it all—Carano and Nolte being shoe-horned back in, Weathers being awful, Pascal being strangely naive given his almost weekly betrayals up to this point—because, well, Baby Yoda, but also director Deborah Chow. The show hasn’t just been in the weeds narrative-wise the last three, the direction stunk. Chow’s direction is good.

The droid bounty hunter also comes back, pointlessly but presumably setup for next episode—the episode ends on a very, very, very hard cliffhanger—so hopefully Chow’s back directing next week too.

There’s some super Baby Yoda powers going on in the episode—I’m not up enough on my current Star Wars lore to know if the power showed up in the prequels or post-quels but it seems to be the first time this Force power has gotten any use.

Outside Favreau’s Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game campaigns.

Herzog’s also back and eye-rolling bad. Giancarlo Esposito finally shows up and he’s all right but just as much of a stunt cast as Herzog. Ludwig Göransson’s music hits the godawful time and again.

The episode does feel a little like it could’ve been at least the fifth episode, maybe fourth, depending on how important you want to pretend Carano’s been to the show’s development.

Oh, but wait—what’s the deal with the creature makeup on Weather’s three sidekicks? It’s so cheap. Two of them are obviously in big helmets to keep the makeup budget down. “The Mandalorian” isn’t supposed to run out of money. It’s a tacit Disney+ promise.

The Mandalorian (2019) s01e02 – The Child

Maybe even more than the first episode, this one’s a commercial for Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm. The adorable sight of Boba Fett playing Lone Wolf and Cub with a baby Yoda, what could be more PG+ Disney. Sure, the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) isn’t actually Boba Fett—though it’s unclear if he’s another Fett clone—but he’s better than Boba Fett because he hasn’t gone after our favorite good guys. In fact, he’s protecting an astoundingly adorable baby Yoda. It’s obvious the bounty on the baby Yoda is going to present an ethical dilemma for Pascal, who’s shockingly not bright and kind of whiney, actually. Like his bounty hunter spaceship from the Prequel Trilogy gets stripped by Jawas and he’s surprised. It seems like something he should be prepared to deal with.

Then there’s the Boba Fett versus Jawa Sandcrawler playset slash LEGO Star Wars: Boba Fett level when Pascal, his stunt man, and his CGI stunt animation try to take out the Sandcrawler in order to get back the ship’s missing pieces. During this entire sequence, baby Yoda is left alone in they’re floating pod (going gender neutral for now because, yeah, it seems like “Mandalorian” is going to introduce a female baby Yoda—a Disney Princess Girl Yoda—which is awesome and bring it on but also a tad obvious, which is a much more appropriate middle-name for show creator and writer Jon Favreau than Kolia)—anyway, Pascal isn’t paying any attention even though the episode opens with him fending off other bounty hunters after the baby. He’s not worried about such things when he’s fighting the Sandcrawler.

And the Sandcrawler sequence is impressive. It looks great; 21st century Disney visuals are phenomenal visuals.

Eventually Pascal has to go back to the verbose ugnaught (I finally heard the Nick Nolte in his voice this episode), who informs Pascal he needs to barter with the Jawas. Maybe the most interesting thing about the episode as far as Star Wars universe stuff is the idea Jawas go from planet to planet. Far more interesting than if the desert planet is actually Tatooine and there’s some tie-in to the next Star Wars movie, which is possible but seems kind of bold. Though, I suppose if anyone’s going to get away with it, it’ll be Star Wars. Star Wars got away with Jar Jar Binks and midichlorians.

Will Pascal learn to control his temper enough to work with Nolte to keep his bounty baby safe and so on?

It’s a Disney movie, what do you think. “The Mandalorian” is what the Ewoks TV movies should’ve been.

And now I do want to know if Favreau had a painted Boba Fett figure so it could be a new character.

Or I don’t. I changed my mind. I don’t. Custom action figuring when you’re in your late teens is something one should keep to himself. Bricks, glass houses, etc.

The Mandalorian (2019) s01e01

“The Mandalorian” is either like reading seventeen year-old Jon Favreau fall 1983 post-Return of the Jedi fan fic or it’s like playing his intricate, verbose Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game campaign–oh, wait, SWTRPG didn’t come out until 1987. So, no, it’s more like watching Jon Favreau play with his Jedi toys. A lot. But the toys play into how the story unfolds—Favreau, who wrote the episode in addition to creating the show, reaches into the toy bin, pulls out a figure, somehow makes it fit into the story. There’s a way too articulate ugnaught, a figure from Empire, pointlessly voiced by Nick Nolte. Most of the figures and vehicles are from Jedi. I think one of the guns is from Empire. You could sit with an old Hasbro catalog and check off items in the episode.

Visually, it looks like a bunch of Ralph McQuarrie paintings. Dave Filoni does an okay job with the direction. He tries hard to make it look like Star Wars: The Original Trilogy as far as his composition—outside when you’re pretty sure it’s a direct lift off a McQuarrie concept painting—but there are shot homages to Jedi the most, maybe Star Wars. Watching “The Mandalorian,” Disney has fully put on its big boy pants and figured out how to market to males age four through forty-four. I’m not sure Werner Herzog is going to attract the fifty-four year-olds. But if you grew up with Star Wars, “The Mandalorian” is for you. It’s how you could keep playing with your Boba Fett toys even after he died in Empire.

Oh, all the mythology on the Mandalorian culture? Metallurgy, female Mandalorians—“Mandalorian” is aimed at the OG Empire Boba Fett fanboys. I wonder if they’re going to release special toys.

Is it a good show? It’s not a bad show. It’s technically flawless except the Ludwig Göransson music, which isn’t bad just a bad idea for the show. Quirky Western. Eh. But it looks great. The acting’s… eh. Herzog’s in a scene, he’s quirky. Carl Weathers is in a scene. He’s not quirky. Lead Pedro Pascal is fine but the more he talks the more you realize you’re watching a cartoon turned live action through CGI.

Will I watch more of it? Sure. It’s never going to be challenging, but will always be mildly engaging and look great; besides, I like pointing out the toys I had as a kid too.

Arthur (2011, Jason Winer)

My Thin Man affection aside, I’m not against sobriety. However, Russell Brand movies integrate the glory of AA to the point it hurts the film (Get Him to the Greek made a similar move at a similar time). The development hurts Arthur, somewhat significantly. It’s good the film has Greta Gerwig, as she pulls it through.

The film is a very pleasant surprise; Brand has shown he can be endearing while still being raucous, but this film is the first I’ve seen where it suggests he might actually be able to act as well. He’s mostly acting opposite Helen Mirren or Gerwig, so he definitely has a lot of support.

The approach helps. Of course it’s nowhere near as good as the original, but it doesn’t compete. Between Brand, Gerwig and Mirren, it engenders a totally different response.

A lot of the film is Mirren’s show—it’s funny because of her responses to Brand. Her career’s gotten so much more interesting as she’s taken these varied roles.

Gerwig’s excellent. Since I’d never seen her before, I was pleasantly surprised, but Arthur has two other big surprises. First, Jennifer Garner’s fantastic. It’s like she was born to play a (realistic) heartless harpy. The other surprise is Nick Nolte (in a small role as Garner’s father). He’s atrocious. I’m not sure they even bothered making sure he was awake.

Winer’s direction is good, very calm and self-aware.

I was hopeful for Arthur, but it’s better than I thought it could be.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jason Winer; written by Peter Baynham, based on the film by Steve Gordon; director of photography, Uta Briesewitz; edited by Brent White; music by Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Sarah Knowles; produced by J.C. Spink, Russell Brand, Larry Brezner, Kevin McCormick, Chris Bender and Michael Tadross; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Russell Brand (Arthur), Helen Mirren (Hobson), Greta Gerwig (Naomi), Jennifer Garner (Susan), Geraldine James (Vivienne), Luis Guzmán (Bitterman) and Nick Nolte (Burt Johnson).


The Deep (1977, Peter Yates)

I’m a little surprised Donna Summer did the theme song for The Deep, seeing as how she’s black and, according to The Deep, every black person is a villain of some kind or another.

Even with his blond locks, I’ve never thought of Nick Nolte as particularly aryan (maybe because his eyes are so brown), but he really comes off like a, well, honky in this one. He calls Louis Gossett Jr. a basketball player as a euphemism for black. Seriously. I think, the last time I tried watching it, I turned it off at that point.

But I struggled through this time and, for that last shot, it’s almost worth the torture. It’s an awful conclusion, maybe the second worst I can think of (after the second Planet of the Apes).

Yates’s Panavision composition is boring, seemingly ready for the TV version (since The Deep was pre-video). John Barry contributes a wholly inappropriate but exceeding lovely score. It’s hard to say if it’s all Yates’s fault or if it’s just a bad production. I’m sure Peter Benchley’s novel wasn’t good, so his screenplay would be similarly dubious. But there’s nothing thrilling about it, there’s no excitement. In fact, it might be the only big Hollywood picture I can think of without a single likable character.

It’s a long two hours, mostly because of the lengthy exposition and then the boring underwater scenes. It’s an anti-thriller film, almost worth examining.

Even Robert Shaw is phoning it in here.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Yates; screenplay by Peter Benchley and Tracy Keenan Wynn, based on the novel by Benchley; director of photography, Christopher Challis; edited by David Berlatsky; music by John Barry; production designer, Anthony Masters; produced by Peter Guber; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Robert Shaw (Romer Treece), Jacqueline Bisset (Gail Berke), Nick Nolte (David Sanders), Louis Gossett Jr. (Henri Cloche), Eli Wallach (Adam Coffin), Dick Anthony Williams (Slake), Earl Maynard (Ronald), Bob Minor (Wiley), Teddy Tucker (the harbor master), Robert Tessier (Kevin) and Lee McClain (Johnson).


Teachers (1984, Arthur Hiller)

It must have been Bette Midler’s former manager, Aaron Russo (Teachers‘s producer), who somehow confused Arthur Hiller as the creative force behind The Hospital. Teachers is very much like The Hospital, but in its stoic protagonist, the stoic protagonist’s ultimate choice in the end, and the strange hijinks. However, as is clearly evidenced by JoBeth Williams’s strange, too flat to be absurdist nudist jaunt, Hiller is not a social commentator. He’s the guy who’d go on to direct Carpool and National Lampoon’s Pucked.

Hiller isn’t the biggest problem with Teachers. The film could survive his competent and unimaginative direction–Hiller seems to have influenced not just every modern sitcom director, but also Jon Favreau, who’s a similarly torpid director. The problem is the script. I don’t know if W.R. McKinney used to be a teacher (it seems likely for press purposes, regardless of uncredited script doctors), but he’s a terrible writer. He’s got severe problems with dialogue and his plotting is awkward. Some of his details are good–he’s got some funny stuff. But mostly he’s awful.

What makes Teachers work is the acting. Nick Nolte runs the whole thing. He’s got a big monologue–poorly written–and Nolte, even with Hiller’s lame direction and Don Zimmerman’s incapable editing, makes it work. He makes it superior.

Much of the supporting cast is good–Judd Hirsch is good as the sellout (rebel teacher turned assistant principal), Allen Garfield as the befuddled but well-meaning teacher, Richard Mulligan (in one of McKinney’s stupidest moves), Morgan Freeman, William Schallert. Williams is okay in her inessential and unlikely role. Ralph Macchio–idiotic costume aside–runs hot and cold. Lee Grant and Laura Dern are terrible, particularly Grant, who has no excuse (Teachers was one of Dern’s first films and her character is, to be fair, atrociously written).

But the Aaron Russo-produced white guy soundtrack–Bob Seger, Joe Cocker, ZZ Top–takes center stage, big shock (the advertisement for the soundtrack is the second end credits card, right after Russo’s credit for producing it too). The soundtrack’s poorly handled, like no one told Hiller it’d be there; not to mention the sound levels being confusing (is the music playing for the characters during Nolte and Williams’s date, or just for the moviegoer).

Teachers has–until the very end–a certain optimism going for it. It loses it then, when the script–shock of shocks–crumbles under its own ridiculousness. A better director could have helped, but not without an artistically-minded (versus soundtrack album sales minded) producer and a great rewrite. Still, seeing Hirsch in a film makes it worthwhile to some degree. And Nolte does have some fantastic moments.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Arthur Hiller; screenplay by W.R. McKinney; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by Don Zimmerman; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Aaron Russo; released by United Artists.

Starring Nick Nolte (Alex Jurel), JoBeth Williams (Lisa Hammond), Judd Hirsch (Roger Rubell), Ralph Macchio (Eddie Pilikian), Allen Garfield (Carl Rosenberg), Lee Grant (Dr. Donna Burke), Richard Mulligan (Herbert Gower), Royal Dano (Ditto Stiles), William Schallert (Horn), Art Metrano (Troy), Laura Dern (Diane), Crispin Glover (Danny), Morgan Freeman (Lewis), Madeleine Sherwood (Grace) and Steven Hill (Sloan).


Q & A (1990, Sidney Lumet)

Sidney Lumet’s awkward examination of political corruption and race in New York City hits some bumps it shouldn’t. One of the major problems–because the film, after all the minor problems, only has two major problems–is the ending. Lumet has a perfectly well-intentioned ending, but he doesn’t quite get it. There’s not enough groundwork for it in the film itself, just a few scenes and they really don’t add up to what the ending needs. The second major problem is the music by Rubén Blades. Not the score, the score is actually all right. But Blades–and Lumet, because I don’t see Blades listed as the producer or the executive–has a theme song for Q & A. Not surprisingly (the score is actually rather sparse and well-used throughout, mostly Lumet relies on a beautiful sound design, wind, rain and traffic), there’s no soundtrack release, but if there had been, I really think it would have been listed as “Don’t Double-Cross the Ones You Love (Theme to Q & A).” It’s a dreadful mistake.

The minor mistakes thrive. While Nick Nolte gives a scary performance as a dirty, bigoted cop, all he’s doing is giving a performance as a dirty, bigoted cop. He put on a bunch of weight for the role, but the weight doesn’t act for him. Timothy Hutton’s pretty good as a wide-eyed idealist, even maintains a hint of an Irish accent throughout, but the movie’s not enough about him. It starts about him, then it splits between Nolte and Armand Assante. Whereas Hutton and Assante make an interesting juxtaposition (with Jenny Lumet forming a love triangle), because of all the energy put into following Nolte, the juxtaposition never comes through. It gets hinted at, but never explored.

Assante’s performance is fantastic, the kind of flashy but substantive performance he should get credit for achieving. As a director’s daughter acting in a mob movie, Lumet does a really good job. Her character’s a lot more complicated than the movie ever gets around to examining, another mistake. The supporting cast is all excellent. Charles S. Dutton and Luis Guzmán, both great and they work beautifully together. But they get left out when the movie balloons too. As elder statesmen of varying morality but similar weariness, both Patrick O’Neal and Lee Richardson are good.

Lumet lets Q & A get way too big without ever making it absorbing. It’s a 132 minutes and it feels like them. It’s never mundane, it’s never boring, but the lack of a central protagonist and the mishmash of theses encourage detachment in the viewer, which is rather unfortunate. Q & A has all the ingredients for excellence and it’s very good; the missteps–particularly not getting the ending just right–hurt it.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Lumet, based on the novel by Edwin Torres; director of photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak; edited by Richard Cirincione; music by Ruben Blades; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Arnon Milchan and Burtt Harris; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Nick Nolte (Brennan), Timothy Hutton (Al Reilly), Armand Assante (Bobby Tex), Patrick O’Neal (Kevin Quinn), Lee Richardson (Leo Bloomenfeld), Luis Guzmán (Valentin), Charles S. Dutton (Chappie), Jenny Lumet (Nancy), Paul Calderon (Roger Montalvo), International Chrysis (José Malpica), Dominic Chianese (Larry Pesch), Leonardo Cimino (Nick Petrone) and Fyvush Finkel (Preston Pearlstein).


Hulk (2003, Ang Lee)

Hulk had a huge box office drop-off after its opening weekend–wow, almost seventy percent. It’s actually somewhat lucky, because I’d have thought people would have gotten up and walked out of the theater. The Hulk doesn’t show up until about an hour into the movie and doesn’t do anything interesting for another half hour after the first appearance. There’s a lot of angst in the first couple Hulk appearances, before it finally gets to him fighting tanks and such. The tank fights and the helicopter fights and the Hulk jumping all over the place–those scenes Ang Lee does all right with. The Hulk doesn’t look “real” in any of the close-ups, but given how unbelievable the acting is from the principals… ILM’s Hulk by far gives the film’s best performance.

The worst performance is–just because it’s so absurdly easy–Josh Lucas. I don’t remember him from anything else, but his big business scientist seems to be an homage to… Himmler, maybe. The actor is bad, nothing else. For all the pseudo-angst Lee and James Schamus drown Hulk in, they don’t mind one of their principal characters being shallower than a piece of newsprint. I think they even gave Lucas extra blue eyes, though I’m not sure why… It’s a horrific performance, but the terrible writing contributes.

The other two–primary–terrible performances are Jennifer Connelly and Eric Bana. Bana hurts the most, since he’s the ostensible lead (it’s really Nick Nolte). Either Bana was on tranquilizers the whole time or mastering getting rid of his Australian accent also removed all animation. Connelly–for the first half–acts with her hair. Once they change the style, though, look out. She’s incapable of doing anything realistically. A big problem with Hulk seems to be casting actors who think the project is crap. Both Bana and Connelly are abjectly disinterested in their performances.

Sam Elliot’s also bad, but that one’s not particularly surprising.

Once again, Nick Nolte shows off just what he can do with a wacky, crazed role and turns in the film’s most sympathetic character.

Lee’s stylistic choices are car wreck interesting. For example, what were the producers thinking trusting Lee with a $140 million budget (glib answer, they weren’t). Lee can’t handle the money, but the other choices he makes–the split screens meant to imitate comic book panels (doesn’t work) or using comic sans as the movie’s font (that one should get one ejected from the DGA, if not incarcerated). But at the beginning, when Lee’s zooming in on all sorts of molecules and lab animals and doing all sorts of dumb fades, Hulk actually works as a super-budget b-movie from the 1950s (the dangers of nuclear power and all). It’s interesting to look at, interesting to experience. Of course, once the Hulk shows up, Lee flushes all that stylization (but sticks to his multi-screen thing, which seems more inspired by security cameras than comic books).

Hulk is a disaster, as the lack of a definite article should suggest, but it’s a disaster caused by incompetence. How hard is it to mess up a big green guy breaking stuff? Very easy, apparently.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ang Lee; written by John Turman, Michael France and James Schamus, based on a story by Schamus and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Frederick Elmes; edited by Tim Squyres; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Gale Anne Hurd, Avi Arad, Schamus and Larry J. Franco; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Eric Bana (Bruce Banner), Jennifer Connelly (Betty Ross), Sam Elliott (Ross), Josh Lucas (Talbot) and Nick Nolte (Father).


Lorenzo’s Oil (1992, George Miller)

I’m not sure when Lorenzo’s Oil lost me. The opening credits are set in East Africa, the focus is on Lorenzo–for those who don’t know, who don’t remember the previews if not the film, Lorenzo is a kid who gets a rare disease–and the film takes a lyric quality. George Miller was a good, straightforward workman on the Mad Max films, but on Lorenzo’s Oil, he adopts camera angles and lighting techniques out of an early Hitchcock film and applies them–in color–to his film. At times, these methods are successful, but that opening scene promises something more than Lorenzo delivers. That opening scene suggests the film will have some enthusiasm for film and for the beauty it can display… and Lorenzo’s Oil (and Miller) never deliver it.

The problem, of course, is the reality. In reality, Lorenzo’s parents had passion for their son and they fought and these (somewhat) average people developed a treatment for the disease. The film latches on to those people’s struggles and triumphs and doesn’t create anything for itself. It manipulates the audience. The scenes with the kid in pain are excruciating to watch, so excruciating I wonder if Miller used them to compensate for the flatness coming from Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon for the first quarter of the film. As Lorenzo’s parents, Nolte and Sarandon spend the first quarter as the film’s peripheral subjects. They guide the audience through Lorenzo’s diagnose–since the kid’s pain is so intensely displayed, it’s for the audience, not for the audience to see the parents react to… Only in the second and third acts does Nolte get any personality. He’s playing an Italian and for that first flat quarter, it’s Nolte fighting against having to do an accent. Eventually, he gets it and just in time, since Sarandon finally gets a personality too–she goes somewhat nuts.

Since Lorenzo’s Oil is based on a true story and it’s based on an inspiring true story and it’s informing people about a disease affecting kids, there’s no chance it can really examine what’s going on. Sarandon’s mother abandons everyone in her life (except the husband), throwing out her sister (an excellent Kathleen Wilhoite), and instead of looking at the real human conflicts going on, Lorenzo’s Oil does a lot of fades to black. Because those have a lot of emphasis. Sarandon isn’t any good, but I’m not sure how much of the performance is her fault. It’s impossible to imagine her and Nolte–as a married couple–doing anything but what they’re doing at each and every moment in the film. They’re automatons, moving in the film to make it go where it needs to go. Nolte’s best scenes are the ones with Wilhoite or some of the other supporting cast members, whenever he gets away from Sarandon and Lorenzo’s Oil begins to feel like a narrative again.

It’s a piece of propaganda and it’s propaganda for a good cause, it’s just not a particularly good film. At times, with some of Miller’s camera angles, I kept thinking of Scorsese’s Cape Fear, especially since Nolte was occupying the same space… until the end, when Miller ripped of The Elephant Man, which I found unbelievably bold.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Miller; written by Nick Enright and Miller; director of photography, John Seale; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce, Marcus D’Arcy and Lee Smith; production designer, Kristi Zea; produced by Doug Mitchell and Miller; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Nick Nolte (Augusto Odone), Susan Sarandon (Michaela Odone), Peter Ustinov (Professor Nikolais), Kathleen Wilhoite (Deirdre Murphy), Gerry Bamman (Doctor Judalon), Margo Martindale (Wendy Gimble), James Rebhorn (Ellard Muscatine), Ann Hearn (Loretta Muscatine) and Maduka Steady (Omuori).


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