Richard Schiff

Becker (1998) s01e19 – Truth and Consequences

Marsha Myers wrote this episode and Myers has been one of the only reliable writers this season. So high hopes for it. And strange disappointment because Truth and Consequences does succeed but it doesn’t have much to do with Myers’s script. It succeeds because it’s got Richard Schiff in a sitcom guest spot. He’s Ted Danson’s accountant cousin who ends up crashing with Becker (Danson) and visiting with the regular cast. It’s great, but because it’s Schiff. Schiff doing sitcom comedy like he does here would be insufferable weekly, but for a guest spot? It’s glorious.

Not to mention the other guest with the most to do is Marvin Kaplan. He’s an old man patient of Danson’s who wants to get busy with the ladies. He’s got a younger woman; she’s sixty-five. There’s a great moment where Danson—mind you, the episode’s from 1999—tells Kaplan a woman’s pleasure is important too now. Kaplan says, “The rules have changed.” Danson replies, “The rules haven’t changed; they’re just enforcing them now.” So that moment does stand out in Myers’s script. It’s not a spectacular moment for the show itself—Danson’s character on the show avoids female characters for romance presumably because it’s too inconvenient to respect them—but it’s a good moment in the script and episode. Kaplan—who is a very familiar TV character actor guest starrer—is right in the scene and Danson’s good enough in the moment.

There’s also a great one-liner from Danson (and Myers) later about how alcohol kills pain and cigarettes relieve stress. So some good moments, but the episode’s all about Schiff’s guest spot. He’s very funny and very good.

Linda (Shawnee Smith) and Margaret (Hattie Winston) get a subplot involving a buff stud medical waste inspector (Matt Battaglia). It doesn’t go for long—it’s like the episode flips between its regular guest cast, Smith and Winston in the first half, then Terry Farrell and Alex Désert in the second—but it’s a good showcase for Smith.

The episode probably just needed a better director. There are lots of solid pieces for the regular cast and then Schiff flawless with whatever he’s got. It’s a very good sitcom but not a great showcase for “Becker,” the show itself. Better direction would’ve made the difference.

Walk and Talk the Vote (2012, Michael Mayers)

Walk and Talk the Vote reunites the “West Wing” cast–including Martin Sheen as President Bartlet, which I wasn’t expecting, but a lot of it feels like it could have just been impersonators.

The only time the commercial–for Mary McCormack’s sister, Bridget Mary McCormack–gets any energy is when characters are actually talking to each other and the actors are visibly getting in rhythm with each other. It happens especially with Allison Janney and Bradley Whitford and a little with Sheen and Lily Tomlin. Poor Richard Schiff, who doesn’t talk with anyone so much as at them, looks a little lost.

Also lost are Joshua Malina and Janel Moloney. They literally disappear after their initial appearance.

It’s a neat idea and not a bad commercial to encourage people to vote the non-partisan portion of the ballot, but John Cockrell’s script is really forced.

Whitford and Janney save it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mayers; screenplay by John Cockrell, inspired by a television show created by Aaron Sorkin; director of photography, Mayers; edited by Greg Arata; music by Kyle Newmaster; produced by Mary McCormack and Michael Morris.

Starring Allison Janney (C.J. Cregg), Janel Moloney (Donna Moss), Richard Schiff (Toby Ziegler), Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman), Mary McCormack (Kate Harper), Joshua Malina (Will Bailey), Melissa Fitzgerald (Carol Fitzpatrick), Lily Tomlin (Deborah Fiderer) and Martin Sheen as the President.


Rough Magic (1995, Clare Peploe)

Rough Magic isn’t a bad idea, it’s just poorly plotted. Most of the movie takes place in Mexico, where it’s mildly engaging and generally amusing (except when Paul Rodriguez shows up to annoy and he is incredibly annoying). Notice all the qualifiers? The movie starts strong and even gives the impression of ending strong (it doesn’t). For example, D.W. Moffett’s excellent in period pieces and most of his work is in the first fifteen minutes and the last fifteen minutes. Clare Peploe’s direction is good overall, but during the first act, it’s much better than the rest of the film.

I had assumed, given how disjointed the narrative gets–it becomes about Russell Crowe (who’s mediocre with a shifty accent and is actually better when he’s the protagonist) instead of Bridget Fonda–the novel was something obscure and maybe good, a thought I rarely have when watching an adaptation. However, the novel’s some pulp from the early 1940s, so I doubt it’s a literary masterwork and I’m wondering how much of the script is new. I’m assuming most, given how particular the setting is to the story, but I suppose it’s possible the big disconnect (from Mexico back to Los Angeles) did come from the novel. Because anyone working on the script should have seen right away it was off.

Bridget Fonda’s great, though she and Crowe don’t have much chemistry for much of the film, and she has some great scenes. Richard Schiff, Andy Romano, Kenneth Mars, Jim Broadbent–very strong supporting cast.

It’s too bad it doesn’t work out, but it becomes clear once the story moves to Mexico it isn’t going to… and then it alternates between amusing and trying, with the Rodriguez scenes something terrible.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Clare Peploe; screenplay by Robert Mundi, William Brookfield and Peploe, based on a novel by James Hadley Chase; director of photography, John J. Campbell; edited by Suzanne Fenn; music by Richard Hartley; production designer, Waldemar Kalinowski; produced by Declan Baldwin and Laurie Parker; released by Goldwyn Films Inc.

Starring Bridget Fonda (Myra), Russell Crowe (Alex Ross), Jim Broadbent (Doc Ansell), D.W. Moffett (Cliff Wyatt), Kenneth Mars (Ivan the Terrific), Paul Rodriguez (Diego), Andy Romano (Clayton), Richard Schiff (Wiggins) and Euva Anderson (Tojola).


The Pentagon Wars (1998, Richard Benjamin)

I can’t remember why I queued The Pentagon Wars. When it started, I kept waiting for the writing credits because I figured it must have been for the writers (it wasn’t). The Pentagon Wars chronicles a colonel’s efforts to get the Pentagon to responsibly develop an armored personnel carrier. It’s also an absurdist comedy. Kelsey Grammer’s the bad guy, the general who can’t answer a straight question and is just waiting for his cushy defense industry job post-retirement. The film alternates between being laugh out-loud funny (Grammer’s fantastic) and depressing. The military-industrial complex shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone and the film actually skirts over that issue quite a bit. Instead, it concentrates on just how much the Pentagon brass is willing to sacrifice troop safety for fashionable accouterments.

The Pentagon Wars was an HBO movie (produced by Jersey Films, which explains some of the quality) and director Richard Benjamin never quite makes it anything more than a televised film. There’s no real character development, no real character arcs, no real character relationships. There’s a bunch of good acting–Grammer, Richard Schiff, John C. McGinley, and Tom Wright (actually, Benjamin’s fine in his cameo too)–and the film’s scenically constructed to allow these actors to amuse. As the straight man, Cary Elwes gives his standard wooden performance. While the script doesn’t involve itself too much with the depth of Elwes’s character, he’s still entirely incapable of giving it any. That arrangement works out, because no matter how many times Elwes fails, the film isn’t requiring him to do anything.

The film, though it never actually quite earns that descriptor, manages to endear itself (mostly due to Benjamin’s amiable handling and the performances). Watching the film–even appreciating it and its humor and its successes (it’s a safe quirky)–I kept wanting it to take itself seriously, as its subject is not a particularly frivolous one. When the seriousness finally did arrive, it came too late–and then the film called upon Elwes… and he couldn’t handle it (surprise, surprise). Still, the attempt was enough to hinder the experience.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Benjamin; screenplay by Jamie Malanowski and Marytn Burke, based on the book by James Burton; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Jacqueline Cambas; music by Joseph Vitarelli; production designer, Vincent M. Cresciman; produced by Howard Meltzer; released by Home Box Office.

Starring Kelsey Grammer (Maj. Gen. Partridge), Cary Elwes (Lt. Col. James Burton), Viola Davis (Platoon Sgt. Fanning), John C. McGinley (Col. J.D. Bock), Tom Wright (Maj. William Sayers), Clifton Powell (Sgt. Benjamn Dalton), Dewey Weber (Sp4 Ganger), Richard Schiff (Col. / Brig. Gen. Robert Laurel Smith), J.C. MacKenzie (Jones), Richard Benjamin (Caspar Weinberger) and Olympia Dukakis (Madam Chairwoman, Armed Services Committee).


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