Sally Field

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012, Marc Webb)

The Amazing Spider-Man is melodramatic trifle, but not in any sort of bad way. I mean, it doesn’t succeed but it does try a lot. Director Webb really goes for a high school romance, with such saccharine effectiveness it probably ought to be an ominous foreshadowing for leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s burgeoning romance. Except, although Webb’s going for the melodrama and there’s a sappy, though heroic, and familiar in many parts James Horner score, John Schwartzman’s photography is super flat. It’s unclear if Webb’s messing it up or Schwartzman or some combination; I lean more towards Webb, if only because Schwartzman knows how to light J. Michael Riva’s early seventies style sets and Webb doesn’t know how to shoot them.

If The Amazing Spider-Man were a period piece set in the late sixties, with a lot more for Denis Leary to do in the first half of the film, it could’ve been something. Instead, it’s this weird mushing together of various ideas, from Spider-Man comics, from popular movies, from unpopular movies, probably something from a TV show. Webb and screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves throw just about everything in. The heart shows. The film’s enthusiastically sappy.

And it usually works, because the good performances weather occasional weak scenes and subplots and manage to sell the sap. Martin Sheen can sell the sap, so can Denis Leary. It’d help if Rhys Ifans’s could sell it too, but he’s pretty terrible as the de facto villain. The writing on the villain stuff is terrible throughout, but Ifans still isn’t any good in the part. Sheen, Leary, and Ifans make up Garfield’s surrogate father trinity in the film, which should be important but isn’t.

Instead of continuing anything the first act threatens with daddy issues, as soon as the delayed second act is underway, the film quickly veers into mostly unrelated territory. The familiar Spider-Man origin has frequent, small tweaks. Usually so director Webb can avoid the action, but not the Spider-Man in New York stuff. Webb likes that stuff.

But the fighting? Webb’s fumbles it. Even when the special effects are good–which is never with Ifans’s CGI alter ego–Webb doesn’t know what he’s doing. Someone–either Webb, the screenwriters, or just the plain old studio–sets up action scenes ripe for video game realization. The action in the third act is almost like the target demographic is Spider-Man gamers. With the gaudy Horner music and Schwartzman’s flat, “realistic” phtoography, the sequences even amuse. The Amazing Spider-Man goes all out when it’s got an idea, good or bad.

It goes for it for over two hours. It goes for it to the point the narrative has two or three major shifts where previous subplots just get dropped. At some point, the film decides it just wants to set up Garfield as a pretty cool Spider-Man. And then everything builds towards it, sometimes with stupid stuff like C. Thomas Howell inexplicably having an extended cameo, like Tobey Maguire or Nicholas Hammond wouldn’t have been far better.

Great Stan Lee cameo though, during the one time the effects all come together and Webb goes along with it and it all works out. It’s a big high school fight sequence between Garfield’s CGI stand-in and Ifans’s CGI stand-in. It’s just fun, but with some danger. Amazing Spider-Man’s balance of danger to fun is one of its strengths.

The greatest strength, however, is Garfield. He’s socially obtuse and pensive, sympathetic without being lovable, occasionally justified in his insensitivity. And instead of losing his place once he and Stone get involved, Garfield just gets better. The fun flirting just informs later serious concern and chastely suggestive sequences. Especially one where Stone and Leary have this awkward family moment and it’s almost good enough, but Webb fumbles it. Stone and Leary try hard enough they get it to pass… but it should be better.

Like Stone. Stone’s underutilized. More Stone would make it better. But the script’s too busy. There are too many characters crowding Garfield. Stone’s just another one of them; after setting her up for her own character development time and again, the film just keeps cutting her off. It’s got no idea what weight to give to what character. Garfield’s just haphazardly visiting people who should have good subplots, but then they never do.

Despite it having nothing to do with anything, it’s got a pretty good ending. As far as melodramatic trifle goes. With the exception of Ifans and a little Leary, Webb’s good with actors. He relies on Garfield and Stone heavily throughout the film and the epilogue’s got some acknowledgement (even if not enough for Stone.

The Amazing Spider-Man has some heart to it, which helps it immeasurably.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Marc Webb; screenplay by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves, based on a story by Vanderbilt and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, John Schwartzman; edited by Alan Edward Bell, Michael McCusker, and Pietro Scalia; music by James Horner; production designer, J. Michael Riva; produced by Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach, and Laura Ziskin; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Sally Field (Aunt May), Rhys Ifans (Dr. Curt Connors), Denis Leary (Captain Stacy), Martin Sheen (Uncle Ben), Irrfan Khan (Rajit Ratha), Chris Zylka (Flash Thompson), and C. Thomas Howell (Jack’s Father).


Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring (1971, Joseph Sargent)

Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring opens with a montage sequence. Sally Field is hitchhiking cross country (supposedly, it’s all California) while audio of her calling home to her parents–after running away to become a hippie–and letting them know she’s all right. The exact amount of time she’s away, where she went, how she left, never gets addressed in the film; probably for the better. But that opening–followed by Field sneaking back into her house and her family going about their morning routine before finding her peacefully asleep in her bedroom–does frame Field as the subject of the film.

Turns out it’s a red herring. Director Sargent, writer Bruce Feldman, and Field have a far more ambitious plan. Sargent, thanks to his actors, Feldman, and particularly editor Pembroke J. Herring, sets about deconstructing the nuclear family. There are frequent short flashbacks–presented as Field’s memories–revealing the family’s history and how it affects Field and little sister Lane Bradbury. Dad Jackie Cooper’s loving as long as no one bothers him and everyone listens to him. Mom Eleanor Parker is underwhelmed too, but she and Cooper have separate beds and he makes good money, so with frequent alcohol, she’s coping. Bradbury, it turns out, is on a similar path as Field took, though with drugs, which apparently wasn’t Field’s problem.

Feldman writes long scenes, which Sargent initially brackets with these uncomfortable panning shots. Maybe is a TV movie and it takes Sargent about fifteen minutes (of its seventy-and-change run time) to get comfortable having to pan to do establishing shots. By comfortable, I mean he stops trying to force wide establishing shots.

Anyway. The long scenes, as the family drama starts to play out, soon reveal just how much Field has changed. The movie’s not about her, the movie’s about this messed up family she’s rejoining. And Field’s performance just gets better and better throughout, as she understands more and more, no longer the teenager, not an adult in her parents’ understanding but certainly from her (and the viewer’s) perspective. Especially once the film gets to her parents’ party with their horrifically shallow friends.

At the same time, Field’s hippie boyfriend (David Carradine in an affable performance) is stealing various work vehicles to get back to her. Most of his character development happens in those flashback scenes, which doesn’t seem like it’s enough but turns out to be just right. Sargent really knows what he’s doing with the pacing of character development. Not just with Field (though, obviously, most with her), but also with Carradine and Bradbury.

Parker and Cooper get established first, which seems like an odd choice given how the emphasis flips, but it too works out. It’s their lives being deconstructed after all. Field and Bradbury are just the victims of their failures.

Cooper’s great, Parker’s great. Nobody’s as great as Field, who asserts herself into the protagonist role without any direct help from Feldman’s teleplay, albeit enabled by Sargent’s spot-on direction. And Sargent and editor Herring establish this choppy, confrontational rhythm to Maybe. Sure, some of the hippie stuff comes off a little washed out thanks to TV and general squareness–and the Linda Ronstadt songs are forced over the action–but Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring works out pretty darn well.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Joseph Sargent; teleplay by Bruce Feldman; director of photography, Russell Metty; edited by Pembroke J. Herring; music by Earl Robinson; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Sally Field (Dennie), Lane Bradbury (Susie), Eleanor Parker (Claire), Jackie Cooper (Ed), and David Carradine (Flack).


Lincoln (2012, Steven Spielberg)

Lincoln is a political thriller. The vast majority of the film concerns the 13th Amendment and Lincoln’s attempts to get it through the House of Representatives. When Lincoln isn’t pursuing this story (or when director Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner’s tangential subplots are too thin), the artifice starts showing. Not even Daniel Day-Lewis, in a phenomenal performance as Lincoln, can survive all of them. He survives most of them, but not when Spielberg brings up the John Williams schmaltz.

At its peaks, Lincoln makes one forget history and be enthralled at watching it unfold. It’s discouraging Spielberg and Kushner didn’t apply this same vigor to the finish. Lincoln is not a biopic; it’s inexplicable why Spielberg felt the need to include the assassination… other than the viewer’s expectation.

He should have left well enough alone, because he fumbles the end. And the second ending. And especially the third.

The film has an all-star cast of recognizable faces if not names. James Spader is the best; he’s allowed the most freedom. Both David Strathairn and Tommy Lee Jones are excellent. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is lost–his role’s useless in actual narrative. Jackie Earle Haley doesn’t do well either. Lee Pace and Peter McRobbie are fantastic as the villains.

Sally Field is Lincoln‘s other big misstep. The other actors, even the lesser performances, transcend their celebrity. Field embraces hers, apparently with Spielberg’s full blessing. It’s a goofy casting choice.

Lincoln is often great, but not consistently. Day-Lewis is, however.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Tony Kushner, based in part on a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin; director of photography, Janusz Kaminski; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Rick Carter; produced by Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (Abraham Lincoln), Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln), David Strathairn (William Seward), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Robert Lincoln), James Spader (W.N. Bilbo), Hal Holbrook (Preston Blair), Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens), John Hawkes (Robert Latham), Jackie Earle Haley (Alexander Stephens), Bruce McGill (Edwin Stanton), Tim Blake Nelson (Richard Schell), Joseph Cross (John Hay), Jared Harris (Ulysses S. Grant), Lee Pace (Fernando Wood), Peter McRobbie (George Pendleton), Gulliver McGrath (Tad Lincoln), Gloria Reuben (Elizabeth Keckley), Jeremy Strong (John Nicolay), Michael Stuhlbarg (George Yeaman), Boris McGiver (Alexander Coffroth), David Costabile (James Ashley), Stephen Spinella (Asa Vintner Litton) and Walton Goggins (Clay Hutchins).


Home for the Holidays (1972, John Llewellyn Moxey)

Director Moxey has–there’s no better word for it–a compulsion for zooming. He absolutely loves it. I imagine it saved the time and money needed for additional set-ups–and I think short zooms from character to character were a 1970s TV movie standard–but it looks just terrible. It kills some of the scenes in Home for the Holidays; otherwise perfectly fine, sometimes eerie scenes, ruined by Moxey and his zooming camera. After the first twenty or thirty minutes, it almost gets funny, how bad a technique he’s employing. When he turns in one particularly taut sequence–Sally Field being chased through the forest by the murderer–it’s a surprise he can do such good work. It’s a great chase scene, full of suspense… with only the commercial break to eventually impair it.

Moxey does have considerable talent, however. He frames shots rather well–when he’s not zooming–and the way he moves actors around in a static shot is fantastic. His close-ups aren’t particularly special, but the medium shots where he can fit four actors into the frame are good. Home for the Holidays, though written, produced and directed by men, is a woman’s picture. The five principals are women, with Walter Brennan in a glorified cameo as father to Field, Jill Haworth, Jessica Walter and Eleanor Parker–Julie Harris plays his new wife, who the women’s mother killed herself over. Brennan’s got little to do in a poorly written role–the Brennan voice doesn’t work with the character. The only other male actor is John Fink, as Field’s erstwhile romantic interest (and, for one possible moment–and for more interestingly–Parker’s). Fink turns in a standard TV movie performance, which doesn’t cut it in the company of the female actors.

The weakest performance is Haworth. She has one okay scene and a lot of bad ones. Joseph Stefano’s script moves quickly, especially when establishing the characters, and he rushes a tad much with Haworth’s character development. But it isn’t really Stefano’s fault–just like Moxey–he’s not really responsible for most of the film’s success. Walter doesn’t have much more character, but she’s excellent–even when she’s delivering this strange Shakespearian monologue. Parker’s solid, with a lot more to do at the beginning than the end, when Home for the Holiday‘s becomes a Sally Field vehicle. It’s hard to imagine what Field’s getting her master’s degree in, but that disbelief aside, she actually does pretty well considering she’s not really a match for Parker, Walters or Julie Harris. Harris has the toughest performance–she’s got to be the hated step-mother, the suspect; Harris manages beautifully, creating a character who the viewer hopes isn’t guilty, even though all evidence points to it.

The end, the unveiling, falls apart. It’s paced well, though, with the revelation coming before the climax, allowing for some more solid acting and decent scenes. Moxey ends it on one of his zooms, but it’s got the music from George Aliceson Tipton going–and the music is excellent–so it gets a pass.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey; written by Joseph Stefano; director of photography, Leonard J. South; edited by Allan Jacobs; music by George Aliceson Tipton; produced by Paul Junger Witt; released by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Jessica Walter (Frederica Morgan), Sally Field (Christine Morgan), Jill Haworth (Joanna Morgan), Julie Harris (Elizabeth Hall Morgan), Eleanor Parker (Alex Morgan), Walter Brennan (Benjamin Morgan), John Fink (Doctor Ted Lindsay) and Med Flory (Sheriff Nolan).


Soapdish (1991, Michael Hoffman)

Zany. Soapdish is zany. At its most amusing, it’s a rapid-fire, carefully scored (Alan Silvestri’s score is essential, given how it establishes the movie’s mood) set of fast scenes with decent laughs. Garry Marshall is hilarious, Carrie Fisher is even funnier. Cathy Moriarty is terrific. So where’s the big problem? Well, Soapdish‘s most amusing parts are not its best parts. There’s an inconsistency, as the best parts are those with Sally Field and Kevin Kline. There’s not quite enough “good” parts for Soapdish to be anything but a zany comedy about soap operas. It is not, for instance, really a good soap opera about soap operas. It’s very aware of itself and its limitations.

I’m not sure a movie with Soapdish‘s melodrama would work as a straight story, so the zany approach isn’t a bad one, it just allows for some mediocre and broad performances. Robert Downey Jr., for instance, has a funny character. Even if it were someone else, the character would still be funny. When it comes to the zaniness, Soapdish is real cheap. Fisher and Marshall, it’d be hard to replace. Downey, anyone could do it. Whoopi Goldberg’s character tends to span both sides and she does a good job and immediately establishes herself as vital. But Elisabeth Shue? I’d forgotten she was in the movie. She can’t hold her own in the scenes with Kline and Field, since Kline’s so good in general and Field’s very self-aware as a trapped TV star. Shue just doesn’t bring anything to the film. Her character on the soap is mute and, basically, so’s Shue.

The movie’s not unsuccessful, it just isn’t deserving of what Kline and Field bring to it. It’s ninety-five minutes of missed opportunities. The movie’s constantly changing tone and pacing and there’s never a chance to believe the characters. Teri Hatcher–who’s actually kind of good–switches from a villainous role to a good one for no reason other than… she needs something to do. The script needs an agent and she’s it.

There’s also a lack of comedic payoff with one major subplot at the end and the movie sort of fades out on earlier smiles. Had the movie really gone for the concept, it’d have been a better result. But at a certain point, it’s just clear–for example–there’s nothing to Downey’s character. He’s not smart, he’s not ambitious, he’s one-dimensional and he’s kind of boring. The movie coats itself in absurdity, trying to disguise it’s never going to suspend the viewer’s disbelief… but then it stops (rather than ends) and it’s very clear it didn’t quite work.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Hoffman; screenplay by Robert Harling and Andrew Bergman, based on a story by Harling; director of photography, Ueli Steiger; edited by Garth Craven; music by Alan Silvestri; produced by Aaron Spelling and Alan Greisman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Sally Field (Maggie), Kevin Kline (Jeffrey Anderson), Robert Downey Jr. (David Seton Barnes), Cathy Moriarty (Montana Moorehead), Elisabeth Shue (Lori Craven), Whoopi Goldberg (Rose Schwartz), Teri Hatcher (Ariel Maloney), Garry Marshall (Edmund Edwards), Kathy Najimy (Tawny Miller), Paul Johansson (Blair Brennan), Arne Nannestad (Director Burton White), Sheila Kelley (Fran) and Carrie Fisher (Betsy Faye Sharon).


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