Penelope Ann Miller

Biloxi Blues (1988, Mike Nichols)

Biloxi Blues has some rather peculiar, rather significant third act problems. Like, it doesn’t have a third act. Did they cut a bunch to keep the PG rating or something? Because at a certain point the rising action stalls out and the film goes into montage summary overdrive. After giving lead Matthew Broderick and ostensible love interest Penelope Ann Miller an amazing “meet cute” first dance, full of chemistry and energy, Miller never gets another line. She’s in a few montage shots, as Broderick romances her, but she’s not even present in the film, just visible. It’s a very weird development, especially considering how phenomenally director Nichols shoots that dance scene.

And Nichols has a lot of very thoughtful direction in the film, which is another reason it feels like it doesn’t have a third act. None of the direction is thoughtful. In fact, it’s tonally regressive. The end of the film—the last real scene—turns everything into a smile, with writer Neil Simon and Nichols running as far away from every question or difficult thought they raised as fast as they can. It just doesn’t make any sense. Unless Simon didn’t have an ending to the movie and for some reason everyone—Nichols, the producer, the studio—just shrugged and said, “Yeah, Matthew Broderick can sell it with narration, he’s Ferris Bueller, it’ll be fine.”

Is Broderick’s narration read good? Yeah… it’s not bad. It’s not great, but it’s not bad. It’s also not his fault because Simon doesn’t give him anything to say really. Whatever lessons Broderick learned from his time in boot camp in 1945 Biloxi don’t come through in the narration. Or Broderick’s onscreen performance. It also turns out he’s supposed to be narrating it from the present, which seems weird with the accompanying shots. There’s got to be a story behind Blues’s production. There’s just got to be.

Because no one has a full character arc in the entire film. Not even Christopher Walken, who’s about one great scene away from a fantastic performance. He never gets his great scene, never unconditionally. It’s usually a combination of script and Broderick; Broderick, not in performance or in role as written, never gets to honestly react to Walken. Walken hounds Broderick for much of the film, because Broderick’s a New York smart-ass and, well, he’s also Jewish. Walken’s not going to take a cheap shot about the Jewish thing, but it’s there. Anytime Walken and Broderick have some kind of showdown where you want to see Broderick’s reaction—or, hell, Walken’s—the action goes to the rest of the platoon.

The rest of the platoon is alpha Matt Mulhern, wannabe alpha Markus Flanagan, average guy Casey Siemaszko, popular but good guy Michael Dolan, and super-nerd (and fellow Jewish guy) Corey Parker. All of the performances are good. It’s exceptional Parker’s able to get away with such an exaggerated stereotype, especially since there’s not a lot of consistency with the character in the script. He starts the film constantly farting and having to take a crap. Apparently it stops being a problem after he starts eating the army food. He’s also supposedly having all sorts of run-ins with Walken; we see some of them, but never the fallout. It’s just like with Broderick… Simon’s not interested in the characters developing from their experiences in Blues.

But Nichols directs for it. The way he positions the actors—Broderick, Parker, Mulhern, Flanagan, Siemaszko, Dolan—Nichols has got a distinct focus. Only then the script goes somewhere else and Nichols lets the film lose that focus. As a result, it always feels like something’s missing. Especially with Walken; especially after the “third act” reveals on Walken. Biloxi Blues should given Walken a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and doesn’t.

Mulhern’s really good. Dolan’s really good. Flanagan and Siemaszko are sort of flat good; the script doesn’t really give them enough. In Siemaszko’s case, Simon forgets about him too.

Great cameo from Park Overall. Good photography from Bill Butler, good music from Georges Delerue, great production design from Paul Sylbert. The forties soundtrack selections aren’t great and tend to be during the ill-advised “for laughs” sections, but they also make the film seem artificial and vaguely insincere, which is definitely not what it ought to be doing.

Biloxi Blues should be really good. It’s got the pieces to be really good. Instead, it’s decent, but a misfire.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mike Nichols; screenplay by Neil Simon, based on his play; director of photography, Bill Butler; edited by Sam O’Steen; music by Georges Delerue; production designer, Paul Sylbert; produced by Ray Stark; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Matthew Broderick (Eugene Morris Jerome), Christopher Walken (Sgt. Toomey), Matt Mulhern (Joseph Wykowski), Corey Parker (Arnold B. Epstein), Markus Flanagan (Roy Selridge), Casey Siemaszko (Don Carney), Michael Dolan (James J. Hennesey), Penelope Ann Miller (Daisy), and Park Overall (Rowena).


Ring Around the Redhead (1985, Theodore Gershuny)

Television is a visual medium but budgetary constraints sometimes lead to a lack of visualizations. I assume Ring Around the Redhead, an episode of “Tales from the Darkside,” had some serious budgetary constraints. The entire episode has two and a half sets–one is inventor John Heard's basement, the other is the prison where he waits on death row.

The episode has two big problems; both are director Gershuny's fault. First, his direction is pedestrian at best. Sure, he's got a small budget, but he's not inventive either. Second, he adapted the script from a forties short story. Heard's inventor–not to mention Caris Corfman's reporter–make no sense in a modern context.

Heard's earnest and tries his best. Penelope Ann Miller's appealing as the otherworldly creature he literally pulls from his floor–Ring obviously has some major problems needing ingenuity to visualize. And Gershuny doesn't have any to offer.

At least it's short.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Theodore Gershuny; teleplay by Gershuny, based on a story by John D. MacDonald; “Tales from the Darkside” created by George A. Romero; director of photography, Jon Fauer; edited by Jeffrey Wolf; music by Michael Gibbs; produced by William Teitler; released by Tribune Broadcasting.

Starring John Heard (Billy Malone), Penelope Ann Miller (Keena), Caris Corfman (Adele) and Greg Thornton (Jimbo).


Other People’s Money (1991, Norman Jewison)

Despite all Danny DeVito’s vulgar innuendos–though there are a couple missed opportunities–Other People’s Money is a rather chaste film. Director Jewison’s model for it is a Hollywood classic, with exquisite gowns for DeVito’s love interest slash rival, Penelope Ann Miller, and hats for the men.

With photography from Haskell Wexler and Alvin Sargent’s thoughtful, deliberate screenplay (though that thoughtfulness might be from Jerry Sterner’s source play), Money is extremely elegant. DeVito playing a variation on his bombastic, obnoxious persona for the first thirty minutes only makes the elegance more striking.

The film opens with DeVito positioned against not Miller, but Gregory Peck, Piper Laurie and Dean Jones (Jones is fantastic in the film). He’s an amusing villain… nothing more. Then Miller enters and Money changes. Jewison has the problem of making a romance believable between the refined Miller and the trollish DeVito. And he solves it. The very slow humanizing of DeVito is one of Money‘s best elements, as DeVito, Jewison and Sargent have structured the character so it’s not a development, just a delayed revelation.

While DeVito’s excellent, Miller’s more impressive because she has to contend with him. Jewison’s composition puts a lot of importance on sight line and Miller sells every scene. It helps Miller’s character has a layered personality too.

R.D. Call and Mo Gaffney are good in smaller roles.

The film’s third act, unfortunately, wobbles quite a bit. Luckily, DeVito, Miller and Jewison’s previous successes are able to override it.

Money‘s an excellent picture.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Norman Jewison; screenplay by Alvin Sargent, based on the play by Jerry Sterner; director of photography, Haskell Wexler; edited by Hubert C. de la Bouillerie, Lou Lombardo and Michael Pacek; music by David Newman; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Jewison and Ric Kidney; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Danny DeVito (Lawrence Garfield), Penelope Ann Miller (Kate Sullivan), Piper Laurie (Bea Sullivan), Dean Jones (Bill Coles), R.D. Call (Arthur), Mo Gaffney (Harriet), Bette Henritze (Emma), Tom Aldredge (Ozzie), Leila Kenzle (Marcia) and Gregory Peck (Andrew Jorgenson).


Kindergarten Cop (1990, Ivan Reitman)

Apparently, Ivan Reitman didn’t think anyone would be familiar with Arnold Schwarzenegger and, therefore, Schwarzenegger would need a big introduction as a tough guy in a movie called Kindergarten Cop. So the first fifteen minutes are a terrible cop movie, wasting cinematographer Michael Chapman on something less realistic than a syndicated eighties cop show.

Once Pamela Reed shows up as Schwarzenegger’s partner, however, Cop starts getting interesting. The cast is full of real actors–Reed, Linda Hunt, Penelope Ann Miller–people who casting Schwarzenegger against doesn’t seem right. So Reitman then goes out of his way to establish Schwarzenegger as a real person–an Austrian immigrant and so on.

While there is potential for a serious movie in Cop, except the first fifteen minutes, Reitman does succeed. He makes Schwarzenegger appealing and touching even. Schwarzenegger, as an undercover cop, doesn’t have to be too good because insincerity is part of his role. It just matters having great performances opposite him and Miller, Hunt and Reed fulfill that requirement.

And Schwarzenegger is good with the kids.

The Oregon location helps a lot too, as does Chapman’s cinematography. Reitman’s mediocre as far as composition, but he doesn’t do bad (except a couple pointless zoom shots).

Reed’s hilarious as Schwarzenegger’s partner, but also able to bring an edge to it. Hunt’s similar as the school principal. Miller doesn’t have a lot to do for a while, but once she does, she’s excellent.

It’s long and front-heavy, but Cop, surprisingly, works out well.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ivan Reitman; screenplay by Murray Salem, Herschel Weingrod and Timothy Harris, based on a story by Salem; director of photography, Michael Chapman; edited by Wendy Greene Bricmont and Sheldon Kahn; music by Randy Edelman; production designer, Bruno Rubeo; produced by Brian Grazer and Reitman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Detective John Kimble), Penelope Ann Miller (Joyce Palmieri), Pamela Reed (Detective Phoebe O’Hara), Linda Hunt (Miss Schlowski), Richard Tyson (Cullen Crisp), Carroll Baker (Eleanor Crisp), Joseph Cousins & Christian Cousins (Dominic Palmieri), Jayne Brook (Zach’s mother), Richard Portnow (Captain Salazar), Tom Kurlander (Danny), Alix Koromzay (Cindy) and Cathy Moriarty (Sylvester’s mother).


The Relic (1997, Peter Hyams)

Considering Peter Hyams’s career as a director began in the early seventies, it’s strange to see him reference Alien and the 1976 King Kong—these films being made after he got his start.

The Relic has the one big problem of Hyams’s career overall—he photographs his films himself and he usually uses this “realistic” palette. That palette is often murky and gray and Relic fits the pattern. It’s unfortunate, not just because it makes scenes sometimes hard to understand (as people move through a dark museum, bumping into strange objects), but also because it cuts down on the film’s sensationalism. And, at its heart, The Relic is a solid, unambitious b movie.

Hyams’s direction—lighting aside—is good. He has fantastic shots and a good pace.

But what’s so good about the film is the acting. Hyams gets this personable, charming performance from Tom Sizemore, which is both a lot of fun and very interesting to see Sizemore essay. It’s against type for him and he excels at it.

Penelope Ann Miller gets top billing and she’s superb. She gets to do a lot (including run from a CG monster) and does it all well. She and Sizemore are great together—but she’s great with everyone in the film, whether Linda Hunt and James Whitmore as her mentors or Chi Muoi Lo as her academic adversary.

Lo is hilariously slimy.

The third act has problems—especially the tepid ending—but The Relic’s an okay monster thriller with excellent performances.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed and photographed by Peter Hyams; screenplay by Amy Holden Jones, John Raffo, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, based on a novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child; edited by Steven Kemper; music by John Debney; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Gale Anne Hurd and Sam Mercer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Penelope Ann Miller (Dr. Margo Green), Tom Sizemore (Lt. Vincent D’Agosta), Linda Hunt (Dr. Ann Cuthbert), James Whitmore (Dr. Albert Frock), Clayton Rohner (Det. Hollingsworth), Chi Muoi Lo (Dr. Greg Lee), Thomas Ryan (Tom Parkinson), Robert Lesser (Mayor Robert Owen), Diane Robin (The Mayor’s Wife) and Lewis Van Bergen (John Whitney).


The Artist (2011, Michel Hazanavicius)

While The Artist is a silent film about the silent film era, it quickly moves into the talking era. Probably in the first third of the film. Hazanavicius technically engages the transition a little–a dream sequence for protagonist Jean Dujardin–but for the majority of the film, it’s set in the late thirties and still told as a silent. Hazanavicius’s commitment to the constraint produces some great results.

The film juxtaposes the fall of Dujardin’s silent film star and the rise of Bérénice Bejo’s talking star. The two are tied from the beginning, but Hazanavicius isn’t telling a traditional love story. There’s no room for it in his narrative structure–The Artist is often told in summary, the film taking place over twelve years.

This approach focuses all the film’s attention on Dujardin; his performance is magnificent. Even when he’s on screen with other actors, particularly at the beginning, he is the whole film. But Bejo is astoundingly good too. She and Hazanavicius manage to keep her character vital yet never overshadow Dujardin.

Hazanavicius is comfortable with silent film storytelling techniques, though a lot of his composition mixes modern ability with silent sensibilities. He also embraces the sensibility of the cast staying youthful over a decade.

The supporting cast is small, but good. John Goodman and James Cromwell do well. Penelope Ann Miller is excellent.

The Artist excels because of Hazanavicius’s devotion to his constraints, but also because of Bejo and Dujardin. Without them, the film simply wouldn’t work.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius; director of photography, Guillaume Schiffman; edited by Anne-Sophie Bion and Hazanavicius; music by Ludovic Bource; production designer, Laurence Bennett; produced by Thomas Langmann and Emmanuel Montamat; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jean Dujardin (George Valentin), Bérénice Bejo (Peppy Miller), James Cromwell (Clifton), John Goodman (Al Zimmer), Penelope Ann Miller (Doris) and Missi Pyle (Constance).


Adventures in Babysitting (1987, Chris Columbus)

If it weren’t for the acting, Adventures in Babysitting would probably be more interesting as a cultural document than anything else. The way the film treats race is probably worth a couple sociology articles. Black people aren’t scary as much as foreign beyond belief. Space aliens would have more in common with the suburban kids than the room of black people they find themselves in a room with. Working class whites, actually, are far more scary.

So I guess, as a Chicagoland filmmaker, Chris Columbus is less racist than mentor John Hughes. Spielberg must have rubbed off on Columbus a little.

The film’s finely acted. Elisabeth Shue’s great in the lead. As her charges, Maia Brewton, Keith Coogan and Anthony Rapp are all good. Brewton and Coogan are sort of best (Coogan has some rather difficult scenes). Calvin Levels is excellent as the car thief who helps them out, as is John Ford Noonan as the first scary guy they meet. George Newbern and Bradley Whitford are both good as Shue’s romantic interests, though Whitford’s got more to do.

In the film’s silliest role, Vincent D’Onofrio has a hard time not laughing.

Penelope Ann Miller starts out strong, but the film eventually requires everyone to laugh at her and dismiss her as silly. Otherwise, she has some of the strongest line deliveries.

John Davis Chandler is weak as the lame villain.

Columbus does a better job with actors than composing shots.

Babysitting‘s moderately amusing, its parts stronger than the whole.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Columbus; written by David Simkins; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Todd Hallowell; produced by Debra Hill and Lynda Obst; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Elisabeth Shue (Chris Parker), Maia Brewton (Sara Anderson), Keith Coogan (Brad Anderson), Anthony Rapp (Daryl Coopersmith), Calvin Levels (Joe Gipp), Vincent D’Onofrio (Dawson), Penelope Ann Miller (Brenda), George Newbern (Dan Lynch), John Ford Noonan (Handsome John Pruitt), Bradley Whitford (Mike Todwell), Ron Canada (Graydon) and John Davis Chandler (Bleak).


Year of the Comet (1992, Peter Yates)

As far as I know, Year of the Comet completes the Louis Jordan as a mad scientist in search of eternal youth (continuing from his two Swamp Thing movies). There’s something so perfect about Jordan pursuing eternal youth, it’s not even questioned. William Goldman uses the device to complicate things in Year of the Comet, sort of to get the ball rolling.

Goldman’s plot for Comet is real simple–run the two protagonists, Penelope Ann Miller and Tim Daly, through Scotland and then France (in the most scenic locations), give them complications and let them be charming together. Daly shows off his mischievous charm here (big shock Comet went as unappreciated as the next time he showed it off–on the great show “Eyes”) and Miller does her charismatic leading comedic actress thing here and both work great. Yates really knows how to direct Miller here too, for great effect, and it doesn’t hurt Goldman’s screenplay seems catered to her.

Most of the scenes not concerned with being scenic (Scotland looks fantastic) have a lot of witty banter going and Goldman writes fine banter for charismatic leads. He gives Jordan’s character some fantastic lines too and Jordan, more than usual, really works together with Miller. They only have a couple scenes together, maybe three, but all of them are memorable.

The film runs less than ninety minutes–IMDb trivia suggests something happened between the start of principal photography and post–but Yates wisely casts very distinctive actors for smaller roles. In the biggest, Ian Richardson as Miller’s father, Shane Rimmer (in three scenes) as Daly’s friend and Art Malik as a suave bad guy (Malik’s the wine to Daly’s Budweiser). Malik’s only got three scenes, but his first one–with a great monologue for Miller–is fantastic. Yates knows how to make the comedy play here. So much so, it’s a surprise how well he turns around and does the other stuff.

There are a lot of distinct sequences in the film, but I’m only going to mention a couple. First is a fight on Loch Ness, totally fogged over, between Daly and Miller on one boat and scary-looking Nick Brimble on another. Yates mixes comedy, action and suspense–lots of suspense–and it’s a fantastic scene. (The film’s got excellent sound design). Oddly, that boat sequence is the one I want to see OAR the most (Comet is only available in pan and scan, the UK DVD apparently from the 1992 VHS master), just because Yates implies having such fantastic composition for it.

The second scene is the helicopter chase. It shouldn’t work, a helicopter chase through Scotland, but it really does. Yates has the right timing, Goldman’s script sets it up and closes it, and the music (by Hummie Mann) is perfect.

Year of the Comet is a lean–could have been longer in the beginning, I’m not sure with what, but with more–comedy throwback. I just wish someone would put it out uncropped.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Yates; written by William Goldman; director of photography, Roger Pratt; edited by Ray Lovejoy; music by Hummie Mann; production designer, Anthony Pratt; produced by Yates and Nigel Wooll; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Penelope Ann Miller (Margaret Harwood), Tim Daly (Oliver Plexico), Louis Jourdan (Philippe), Art Malik (Nico), Ian Richardson (Sir Mason Harwood), Ian McNeice (Ian), Tim Bentinck (Richard Harwood), Nick Brimble (Jamie) and Shane Rimmer (T.T. Kelleher).


The Shadow (1994, Russell Mulcahy)

The Shadow is not a perfect film, but there’s so much good about it. Besides that its great cast–Jonathan Winters is the only weak link–besides that its beautifully constructed screenplay–the best constructed one I can think of… I haven’t seen this film since the theater, so I was sixteen. I don’t remember liking it. I didn’t like Alec Baldwin back then. Actually, my opinion of him has only changed with his recent work, but he’s good. I do have to dislike The Shadow a little, since its commercial and critical failure ended Penelope Ann Miller’s career….

Russell Mulcahy always gets a measure of respect from film people. Even film snobs. Well, the film snobs I used to work with, anyway. Highlander is a terrible film with bad writing and Christopher Lambert. However, Mulcahy did a great job directing (and Clancy Brown was great). If anyone deserves a $150 million movie, it’s Mulcahy, or at least the Mulcahy of the 1990s. The Shadow is a textbook example of good, engaging filmmaking. Mulcahy has a number of long-shots of Baldwin and Miller on darkened sidewalks. Sure, Steven Spielberg used to be a better director and maybe–maybe–he still is, but I can’t remember the last time Spielberg’s composition engaged my brain. Oh, wait. Yeah, no, I do. Close Encounters.

About halfway through The Shadow, I realized my post was going to be a lot more positive than I originally thought. The film starts with silly scene of Baldwin going native in 1920s China as a warlord and I spent a while wishing that scene away. A half hour later, I wasn’t thinking of that scene or its failings at all. The Shadow moves. There are a lot of characters and a lot of scenes–but the most memorable scenes are still quiet ones, except the finale, when Baldwin looks more like Howard Chaykin’s ultra-violent Shadow from the 1980s DC Comics revival. The memorable scenes are the ones between Miller and Baldwin–the romantic ones–and Baldwin and John Lone, who is the bad guy. The screenplay is exciting to experience. It’s why I went into Panic Room thinking it would be good. Because I loved David Koepp in the 1990s. I’m going to rewatch Carlito’s Way again, I loved this screenplay so much.

As frightening as it sounds (even to me)–The Shadow has reinvigorated my interest in film, I’m adding DVD after DVD to both Netflix and Blockbuster queues. It’s amazing storytelling….

I can’t explain it. You’ll just have to sit down and watch this film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; screenplay by David Koepp, based on the character created by Walter B. Gibson; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Peter Honess and Beth Jochem Besterveld; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Joseph C. Nemec III; produced by Martin Bregman, Willi Baer and Michael S. Bregman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Alec Baldwin (Lamont Cranston / The Shadow), Penelope Ann Miller (Margo Lane), John Lone (Shiwan Khan), Peter Boyle (Moe), Tim Curry (Farley Claymore), Ian McKellen (Dr. Reinhardt Lane) and Jonathan Winters (Wainwright Barth).


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