Peter O’Toole

High Spirits (1988, Neil Jordan)

High Spirits is another fine example of how excellent production values, earnest performances and a genial air can make even the most problem riddled film enjoyable.

The studio, infamously, took Spirits away from director Jordan in the editing and the resulting version isn’t his intention. The narrative is disjointed–characters get lost, their arcs collapse, in the case of the hotel employees… they don’t even get established.

The film has an utterly wonderful comic performance from Peter O’Toole near its center. Eventually, O’Toole has to give up the spotlight to Steve Guttenberg, who isn’t nearly as funny (or as good). Guttenberg’s generally likable, thanks to having an fire-breathing dragon of a wife (Beverly D’Angelo) and a pleasant way about him. Terrible outfit though. Spirits has great photography from Alex Thomson, a nice score from George Fenton, lovely Anton Furst production design and lame eighties costuming from Emma Porteus. Why Guttenberg’s wearing a heavy wool coat around indoors half the movie is beyond me.

Jordan’s direction is decent but not exceptional. The special effects and Thomson’s photography make the film after a certain point, especially the effects.

Besides O’Toole, the best performance might be Liam Neeson’s hilarious turn as a horny ghost. As his wife–and murder victim (not to mention Guttenberg’s romantic interest)–Daryl Hannah is good. She doesn’t have a lot to do though. D’Angelo’s on the low side of mediocre.

Regardless of Jordan’s original intent, High Spirits is often rather funny and exquisitely well-made. It’s fine.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Neil Jordan; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Michael Bradsell; music by George Fenton; production designer, Anton Furst; produced by David Saunders and Stephen Woolley; released by TriStar Pictures.

Starring Daryl Hannah (Mary Plunkett Brogan), Peter O’Toole (Peter Plunkett), Steve Guttenberg (Jack Crawford), Beverly D’Angelo (Sharon Brogan Crawford), Jennifer Tilly (Miranda), Liam Neeson (Martin Brogan), Peter Gallagher (Brother Tony), Ray McAnally (Plunkett Senior), Martin Ferrero (Malcolm), Connie Booth (Marge), Donal McCann (Eamon), Mary Coughlan (Katie) and Liz Smith (Mrs. Plunkett).


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).


The Stunt Man (1980, Richard Rush)

The Stunt Man opens with an exquisitely interconnected sequence, introducing all of the principals–Peter O’Toole, Barbara Hershey and Steve Railsback–while concentrating on Railsback. Hershey’s introduction, which turns out to be the first of director Rush’s muddling of reality, manages to be both blatant and muted. I wonder how it plays on someone’s first viewing of the film (this time is my third or fourth). This opening sequence plays up the film’s almost screwball comedy–something Dominic Frontiere’s score makes possible.

But the film isn’t actually a screwball comedy. It’s a film about films, where there’s a blur in the difference between the two, whether it’s Rush cutting from an actual, practical effect sequence to a movie-in-movie shot or Railsback’s vet on the run meeting and falling in love with his dream girl, Hershey’s successful Hollywood actress. The Stunt Man practically begs for an intense analysis, since all three of the main characters are incredibly complex, but also Rush’s approach to telling their rather singular stories.

I hadn’t noticed before–probably because the first one or two viewings were at a young age and the last time I saw it, I was more concentrated on seeing it OAR for the first time–but O’Toole’s character is never explained. There are barely any hints at it. On one hand, he’s a megalomaniac film director who manipulates everyone around him for the best filmed result, but then there’s the exceptionally complicated relationship with Railsback’s vet. It occasionally starts to make sense, then almost immediately stops, with O’Toole, or the film, providing a contrary reason. Trying to make sense of it all–while Rush is busy filling the film with these big set pieces–puts the viewer on the same unsteady ground Railsback spends the entire film traversing.

Railsback–who never really had a major role after this one, never even had a role in a respectable production again from my perusal of his filmography–is outstanding. He’s got to be the lead with O’Toole around and O’Toole’s performance here is one of his best. It’s a catered career best performance–and one of the few I can think of where the actor exceeds the expectations. O’Toole has a great time with the role, but part of The Stunt Man‘s beauty is how it gets away from everyone involved. I’m not sure Rush and company knew they were going to make such a singular motion picture.

Barbara Hershey doesn’t get the film’s hardest role–Railsback has a couple gut-wrenching monologues where he asserts himself as the lead in spite of O’Toole’s glister–but where Railsback has so much to accomplish through dialogue, Hershey instead has to do it all quiet. She’s got Rush and Frontiere constructing the perfect arena for these physical expressions and they’re amazing. Rush doesn’t just know how to shoot her, Hershey knows how to act in his shots.

With the emphasis on stunts–not to mention the Vietnam connection (comparing this nearly unknown film to something more well-known and popular, like First Blood, is painful)--The Stunt Man becomes less and less accessible to audiences with each year. The film’s enthralled with the magic of filmmaking, the bottled wonderment; it’s also responsible for its contents–the Vietnam details are never cotton candy–and then there’s that screwball tone. It’s a difficult film to describe and should be seen instead. It hasn’t been, however, and the viewership isn’t going to go up and that state’s a bad thing.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Richard Rush; screenplay by Lawrence B. Marcus, adaptation by Rush, based on a novel by Paul Brodeur; director of photography, Mario Tosi; edited by Caroline Biggerstaff and Jack Hofstra; music by Dominic Frontiere; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Peter O’Toole (Eli Cross), Steve Railsback (Cameron), Barbara Hershey (Nina Franklin), Allen Garfield (Sam), Alex Rocco (Police Chief Jake), Sharon Farrell (Denise), Adam Roarke (Raymond Bailey), Philip Bruns (Ace), Charles Bail (Chuck Barton) and John Garwood (Gabe).


Ratatouille (2007, Brad Bird)

While Ratatouille features Pixar’s finest three-dimensional CG, it also features their worst two dimensional characters. The problem’s apparent from the start–the main character has one conflict and it turns out to resolve itself quite easily in the end. There are other conflicts in the film, but they’re all external to the main character, Remy–whose name is easy to forget because he doesn’t really interact with anyone for the majority of the second act. Ratatouille bored me for most of the film, only really engaging me once it got incredibly manipulative towards the end.

There’s a lot to keep busy with… like I said, the CG is phenomenal and there are some okay gags, but there’s very little content because there are no real character relationships. Brad Bird does some really nice things with composition–and, wow, can he ever fill a movie with lengthy action sequences to hide the lack of substance–he does a really nice focus thing, so nice, combined with the Pixar CG, I had to remind myself they really did nothing more than apply some blur filters in Photoshop or whatever the Pixar rendering program is called.

Bird’s writing does Ratatouille in… he doesn’t create engaging characters, certainly not compelling character relationships–Remy spends most of his time talking to an imaginary friend. In many ways, I felt like I was watching an old Disney formula movie, competently pulled off–disingenuous as all hell.

It’s sad when Pixar movies–which used to mean something, but obviously peaked with Monsters, Inc.–are fake and fluff. It’s all so slight, none of the voice actors stood out. The lead, Patton Oswalt–thanks to Bird’s ineffective characterizations–leaves no impression. The whole thing relies on rats being cute and doing cute things, like having little ladders.

Hey, it worked for “Tom and Jerry,” no reason it won’t work for Ratatouille.

There’s also an odd–and apparent, as a little girl asked about it in the row behind me–absence of female rats in the film… in fact, there’s only one woman in the whole thing, human or rodent. The little girl was asking where Remy’s mother was (while I was asking where the female rats were)… but in the end, it really doesn’t matter. Bird wouldn’t have done anything good with her.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Brad Bird; written by Bird, with additional material by Emily Cook and Kathy Greenberg, based on a story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco and Bird; director of photography, lighting, Sharon Calahan; director of photography, camera, Robert Anderson; supervising animators, Dylan Brown and Mark Walsh; edited by Darren Holmes; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Harley Jessup; produced by Brad Lewis; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Patton Oswalt (Remy), Ian Holm (Skinner), Lou Romano (Linguini), Brian Dennehy (Django), Peter Sohn (Emile), Brad Garrett (Auguste Gusteau), Janeane Garofalo (Colette) and Peter O’Toole (Anton Ego).


How to Steal a Million (1966, William Wyler)

I think I might hate ‘cute.’ Or at least the pseudo-realistic ‘cute’ that permeated film through the 1950s and 1960s, when the films became so much about enjoying the actors’ charisma, there was no sense of any reality to the films’ situations and conflicts. In that way, How to Steal a Million is an interesting companion to Sneakers. Sneakers is still a real film, How to Steal a Million is not….

The film’s mildly charming–Audrey Hepburn’s in it, after all–but the first half is too long. The second half, which switches focus to Peter O’Toole is better, but probably only because it contains the heist scene (the heist genre has since learned, when doing ‘cute,’ have a heist at the beginning too, to set high expectations for the final caper). I suppose what’s most wrong with the film is William Wyler. It feels like he’s doing a light comedy and knows it. The film hasn’t got anything to say about… anything. It’s either treading water or paying for scotch. As it comes right after The Collector in his filmography, it almost looks like it has to be scotch money.

I’ve seen the film before, years and years ago, and I remembered it being a lot better. I’d forgotten Wyler directed it, however, which is hardly a good sign. The most stunning thing about the film is probably that Hepburn was thirty-seven when she made it. The only sign of her age might be the eye-shadow… and I suppose it did make me want to watch Wait Until Dark again. Blond-haired, blue-eyed O’Toole leaves no impression….

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by William Wyler; screenplay by Harry Kurnitz, based on a story by George Bradshaw; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Robert Swink; music by John Williams, production designer, Alexandre Trauner; produced by Fred Kohlmar; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Audrey Hepburn (Nicole), Peter O’Toole (Simon Dermott), Eli Wallach (Davis Leland), Hugh Griffith (Bonnet), Charles Boyer (DeSolnay), Fernand Gravey (Grammont), and Marcel Dalio (Senor Paravideo).


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