Sarah Jessica Parker

Flight of the Navigator (1986, Randal Kleiser)

Flight of the Navigator works on a principal of delayed charm; eventually, it’s got to be charming, right? No, no, it doesn’t. The film’s a series of false starts. The only thing approaching a pay-off is Paul Reubens–voicing an alien spaceship–going into a riff on his “Pee-Wee” routine. It’s not even a good routine. Worse, the film wastes kid lead Joey Cramer’s substantial likability. He’s not great, but he’s not annoying. He’s always sympathetic. Well, until the idiotic conclusion.

Navigator runs ninety minutes. Almost the first hour is about Cramer, missing for eight years, returning to his family. Only Cramer’s the same age; what happened in those missing eight years. For some reason, Howard Hesseman’s NASA scientist thinks it’s got to be linked to the alien spaceship they just discovered. Flight of the Navigator takes place over like three days. The film does a weak job establishing the characters, even weaker after it jumps forward eight years, so it’s hard to sympathize with anyone. You’re not supposed to sympathize with Hesseman, who’s just a jerk. He’s incredibly miscast.

Most of the acting is fine. Cliff De Young and Veronica Cartwright have thin parts as Cramer’s parents, but they’re both fine. Matt Adler’s kind of weak as his now older brother, but with the script, it’s not like Adler was going to be able to do anything with it. Same goes for Sarah Jessica Parker, who’s basically just around to gently flirt with twelve-year-old Cramer and explain the eighties to him.

Technically, the film approaches competent. Director Kleiser tries for grandiose with the first half and fails, but has more success once the spaceship comes into it. Alan Silvestri’s music is lacking. Nothing else stands out. I mean, James Glennon’s photography is boring, but it isn’t bad.

While Flight of the Navigator is still about Cramer reappearing after eight years, it has a far amount of potential. Even during some of the last third’s special effects sequence, it has some left. It’s dwindling, but it’s still there. Until the lame finish, which lacks any dramatic heft. The film’s not long enough and the script’s not good enough to make Cramer’s adventure resonate. Flight of the Navigator could have run fifteen minutes and had the same dramatic impact. It’s slight and not diverting enough.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Randal Kleiser; screenplay by Michael Burton and Matt MacManus, based on a story by Mark H. Baker; director of photography, James Glennon; edited by Jeff Gourson; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, William J. Creber; produced by Robert Wald and Dimitri Villard; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Joey Cramer (David Freeman), Cliff De Young (Bill Freeman), Veronica Cartwright (Helen Freeman), Matt Adler (Jeff), Sarah Jessica Parker (Carolyn McAdams), Howard Hesseman (Dr. Louis Faraday) and Paul Reubens (Max).


Footloose (1984, Herbert Ross)

Footloose isn’t so much awful as dumb and obvious. Some of it is awful–the scene where Kevin Bacon, fed up with the small town getting him down, just has to go to an abandoned mill and dance it out–that scene is awful. So are most of the courtship scenes between Bacon and Lori Singer.

But the relationship between Singer and father John Lithgow? While really obvious and thin, the actors do okay with it. Singer’s not good, but she’s convincingly angry. Lithgow’s the emotionally wounded reverend who tries to fix the world through his sermons, only to learn the townsfolk he’s trying to save are perverting his message. It’s just Footloose’s way not condemning the religious in the audience, just the ones who don’t like rock music. Though it does a really bad job of it.

Some of the problem is Dean Pitchford’s script. It’s dumb and often bad, but Pitchford really doesn’t shy away from difficult scenes. The ones between Lithgow and Singer, the ones between Lithgow, Singer and Dianne Wiest (as the quietly suffering preacher’s wife), they’re really good. But Pitchford doesn’t know how to work them. The most important conversation in the film–between Bacon and Lithgow–doesn’t even occur on screen.

It’s not like director Ross does much good. He probably can’t make Bacon look any younger and most of the performances are blandly acceptable, but the idiotic dance interludes are Ross’s fault.

Footloose is often marginally competent, but never any good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Herbert Ross; written by Dean Pitchfork; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Paul Hirsch; production designer, Ron Hobbs; produced by Lewis J. Rachmil and Craig Zadan; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kevin Bacon (Ren), Lori Singer (Ariel), John Lithgow (Rev. Shaw Moore), Dianne Wiest (Vi Moore), Chris Penn (Willard), Sarah Jessica Parker (Rusty), John Laughlin (Woody), Elizabeth Gorcey (Wendy Jo), Frances Lee McCain (Ethel McCormack) and Jim Youngs (Chuck Cranston).


State and Main (2000, David Mamet)

Something unfortunate happens during the last third of State and Main… Mamet realizes he needs a story.

He goes so long without traditional narrative elements—the film has, at best, a roaming protagonist and Mamet doesn’t do much establish the ground situation as hint at one for smiles. Mamet doesn’t go for belly laughs in the script, he goes for nods and smiles. It works better, since he’s dealing with cynical Hollywood types in small town America.

Of course, it’s small town New England, so he can make sure the town’s residents are all quite literate.

For the most part, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s independent playwright turned Hollywood screenwriter is the protagonist. State and Main, the non-comic parts, is about his relationship with townsperson Rebecca Pidgeon. It’s a good on-screen romance… very classical. Mamet doesn’t know how to really finish it, turning Pidgeon into a nice Lady Macbeth at one point, but it’s otherwise excellent. Both Hoffman and Pidgeon are great.

But there’s no bad acting in the film. William H. Macy’s, Alec Baldwin, Julia Stiles, David Paymer, Lionel Mark Smith, Patti LuPone… everyone’s great. Mamet—doing a really mellow story—does exceeding well directing his cast.

Oh, and Sarah Jessica Parker? Great. I always forget she can be really good.

Clark Gregg’s small town slime bag’s fun too.

Very appropriate score from Theodore Shapiro.

The only complaint, besides the finale, is Mamet’s lack of establishing long shots. He never sets up the small town besides on street level.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by David Mamet; director of photography, Oliver Stapleton; edited by Barbara Tulliver; music by Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Gemma Jackson; produced by Sarah Green; released by Fine Line Features.

Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman (Joseph Turner White), Rebecca Pidgeon (Ann), William H. Macy (Walt Price), Clark Gregg (Doug Mackenzie), Sarah Jessica Parker (Claire Wellesley), Alec Baldwin (Bob Barrenger), Julia Stiles (Carla), Charles Durning (Mayor George Bailey), Patti LuPone (Sherry Bailey) and David Paymer (Marty Rossen).


Honeymoon in Vegas (1992, Andrew Bergman)

Honeymoon in Vegas almost defies description. Bergman drags a sitcom out to ninety minutes. But he also makes his straight man—Nicolas Cage—act like a lunatic. Cage’s performance during the second act features him screaming the end of every sentence.

Wait, I forgot about the utterly useless prologue (though it does give the chance for an Anne Bancroft cameo). Also important is when James Caan’s character reveals himself to be a dangerous psychopath—at the start of the third act, before then he’s just enthusiastic. What else am I forgetting….

Bergman treats the narrative like Johnny Williams’s terribly unfunny flunky, who’s constantly eating. Bergman pays so little attention to his film… he forgets he’s got Cage narrating it in the past tense.

Caan’s bad throughout—it’s the script’s fault, but it’s also his inability to deviate from his normal performance anymore. It’s depressing to see him in Vegas.

Cage is good at the beginning, terrible in the middle and okay at the end. His character is unbelievably stupid because he needs to be, which makes it hard to like him.

And Sarah Jessica Parker, who they both love (Cage had her first, Caan steals her away), is terrible at the beginning. But then she’s great in the middle. She holds up at the end too.

Bergman’s directing of actors is almost as bad as his soap opera composition.

Oh, I didn’t even mention David Newman’s terrible score….

Honeymoon in Vegas is, like I said, indescribable. Except by negative adjectives.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Andrew Bergman; director of photography, William A. Fraker; edited by Barry Malkin; music by David Newman; production designer, William A. Elliott; produced by Mike Lobell; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring James Caan (Tommy Korman), Nicolas Cage (Jack Singer), Sarah Jessica Parker (Betsy), Pat Morita (Mahi Mahi), Johnny Williams (Johnny Sandwich), John Capodice (Sally Molars), Robert Costanzo (Sidney Tomashefsky), Peter Boyle (Chief Orman), Burton Gilliam (Roy Bacon), Seymour Cassel (Tony Cataracts), Tony Shalhoub (Buddy Walker) and Anne Bancroft (Bea Singer).


Mars Attacks! (1996, Tim Burton)

I remember seeing Mars Attacks! in the theater–in those days, the pre-Sleepy Hollow days, I was quite the Tim Burton aficionado. That affection has changed (changed is the polite word) in the last fourteen years, but Mars Attacks! has just gotten better and better on each viewing. At present, it’s my vote for Burton’s most accomplished film (Ed Wood being the other contender).

In fact, it’s almost unbelievable Burton made the film–during the war room sequences, one could feel Strangelove, something I don’t think of with Burton, and his handling of the cast is magnificent. In a lot of ways, Burton does here what Soderbergh tries to do with his populist films and can’t achieve fully–Burton makes a great time, but for himself. The film’s completely indifferent to its potential audience (something I sort of remember from the response when it came out) and just… enraptured with itself.

The Martians don’t show up for at least a half hour–it might be forty minutes–so the cast is instead given the opportunity to create these fantastic characters who may or may not matter later on. I think only Danny DeVito really gets to define himself after the invasion begins.

Everyone in the film is fantastic (I always forget Natalie Portman used to be good), but standouts are Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening… oh, wait, I’m just listing the cast.

Jim Brown’s really good.

Burton’s direction–his first Panavision, I think–is singular.

Simply put, it’s awesome.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Jonathan Gems, based on his story and the trading cards by Len Brown, Woody Gelman, Wally Wood, Bob Powell and Norman Saunders; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Wynn Thomas; produced by Burton and Larry J. Franco; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jack Nicholson (President James Dale / Art Land), Glenn Close (First Lady Marsha Dale), Annette Bening (Barbara Land), Pierce Brosnan (Professor Donald Kessler), Danny DeVito (Rude Gambler), Martin Short (Press Secretary Jerry Ross), Sarah Jessica Parker (Nathalie Lake), Michael J. Fox (Jason Stone), Rod Steiger (General Decker), Tom Jones (Himself), Jim Brown (Byron Williams), Lukas Haas (Richie Norris), Natalie Portman (Taffy Dale), Pam Grier (Louise Williams), Lisa Marie (Martian Girl), Brian Haley (Mitch, Secret Service Agent), Sylvia Sidney (Grandma Florence Norris), Jack Black (Billy Glenn Norris) and Paul Winfield (General Casey).


Striking Distance (1993, Rowdy Herrington)

If it weren’t for the fantastic Brad Fiedel music (until the end credits) and the Pittsburgh locations (the city really is underutilized as a filming location, with Striking Distance taking fantastic advantage of its mix of urban, green and water), there’d be nothing to distinguish this one. It’s a B movie given a high profile because Bruce Willis is the star. Additionally, a lot of the supporting cast is solid and recognizable–but auteur Rowdy Herrington doesn’t have much control of them, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

Willis, for instance, turns in a performance with less depth than if he were selling hair products (maybe to explain his strange, long in the back, pseudo-mullet in the film). Dennis Farina’s awful, clearly needing firmer direction. But Tom Sizemore and Robert Pastorelli are both good. Pastorelli’s actually great in some parts, running loose without having to worry about anyone telling him to stop. Brion James and John Mahoney are both solid in smaller parts. Sarah Jessica Parker isn’t at all believable as Willis’s partner, but she’s not terrible.

The film has, for such a solid production environment, some lame cinematography courtesy Mac Ahlberg, who shot a lot of B movies… so maybe it does fit. Herrington tries to combine a Bruce Willis cop movie with a serial killer thriller, but directed like a horror movie. It succeeds in being incredibly watchable, if completely unrewarding.

There’s a strange amount of bare chested Willis; his shirts apparently go to pieces on touch.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Rowdy Herrington; written by Herrington and Marty Kaplan; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by Pasquale Buba and Mark Helfrich; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, Gregg Fonseca; produced by Arnon Milchan, Tony Thomopoulos and Hunt Lowry; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Bruce Willis (Det. Tom Hardy), Sarah Jessica Parker (Jo Christman), Dennis Farina (Capt. Nick Detillo), Tom Sizemore (Det. Danny Detillo), Brion James (Det. Eddie Eiler), Robert Pastorelli (Det. Jimmy Detillo), Timothy Busfield (Tony Sacco), John Mahoney (Lt. Vince Hardy), Andre Braugher (Dist. Atty. Frank Morris), Tom Atkins (Sgt. Fred Hardy), Mike Hodge (Capt. Penderman) and Jodi Long (Officer Kim Lee).


Ed Wood (1994, Tim Burton)

Ed Wood is a biopic of the unsung. The “misfits and dope addicts” of impossibly low budget American filmmaking. The film’s epilogue, following up with the characters, puts the film on the same level as all other big Hollywood biopics. Except this one is about someone who really didn’t do anything (and didn’t even get famous until after his death).

I remember around the time the film came out–I still have fond memories of seeing it at a sneak preview–the screenwriters talked about how difficult it was to turn Plan 9 from Outer Space into the momentous event in Ed Wood’s life it is in the film. Glen or Glenda, for obvious autobiographical reasons, was the better choice, but it wouldn’t have worked as a film (and certainly wouldn’t have gotten Martin Landau an Academy Award, though I doubt anyone was seriously considering the film for awards season at that point). Their solution is an interesting one. After Wood goes from funny to dramatic (the introduction of Patricia Arquette and the death of Landau’s Lugosi), the last act goes back to funny. But in a strange overdrive, best described by Bill Murray in the film–“How do you get all your friends to get baptized just so you can make a monster movie?” It isn’t just the characters in the film, it’s the viewer too. The lunacy has to encompass the viewer to get the picture to end right. And it works beautifully.

The film portrays Wood as a bit of a dope, but also filled with such unbridled, infectious enthusiasm, he can get anyone to do anything. Of a certain age, anyway. One of Wood‘s funniest running jokes involves the older members of the film crew, who are either perplexed by the director’s actions or resignedly amused.

The whole show actually isn’t Johnny Depp, which is kind of surprising, given the enormity of Depp’s presence. He’s so big it’s hard for him to fit in the frame. I remember during one early scene with Mike Starr, I forced myself to notice Depp’s twitching eyebrows. It was the only time during the viewing when I thought about his approach to the character as an actor. The rest of the time I was transfixed.

It’s all about Tim Burton really. Breaking down the dialogue, it’s better than average, but nothing earth-shattering. It’s Burton’s approach to the characters and to the story itself. Watching Ed Wood and thinking about what careful and deliberate steps Burton took in making it… is a little strange. Especially during the third act with the reenactments of the Plan 9 scenes. Burton convinces the viewer to stick around for the guy who made Plan 9, then goes and shows the film in all its awfulness.

The supporting cast–from Sarah Jessica Parker to Max Casella–are all excellent. Parker’s got some of the meatier scenes in the first half with Depp–Arquette’s basically just playing the dream girl, she’s good, but she doesn’t get to do much–and she’s got a wonderful exit. Landau’s Lugosi performance is something to behold… especially given Lugosi was a terrible actor himself, only to be portrayed as beautifully as Landau does. He really does some amazing things with Lugosi, borrowing the film from Burton and Depp.

Somehow, Burton manages to make the film feel good at the end–it must be the silliness–and it’s an exquisite experience. The deft handling of comedy, drama and practically fetishized filmmaking suggests Burton’s capable of great things. It’s just a shame he doesn’t try to attain them anymore.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, based on a book by Rudolph Grey; director of photography, Stefan Czapsky; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Tom Duffield; produced by Denise DeNovi and Burton; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Johnny Depp (Ed Wood), Martin Landau (Bela Lugosi), Sarah Jessica Parker (Dolores Fuller), Patricia Arquette (Kathy O’Hara), Jeffrey Jones (Criswell), G.D. Spradlin (Reverend Lemon), Vincent D’Onofrio (Orson Welles), Bill Murray (Bunny Breckinridge), Mike Starr (Georgie Weiss), Max Casella (Paul Marco), Brent Hinkley (Conrad Brooks), Lisa Marie (Vampira), George ‘The Animal’ Steele (Tor Johnson) and Juliet Landau (Loretta King).


Smart People (2008, Noam Murro)

It’s hard to intelligently describe Smart People because the best way to describe it is quite simple. It’s a bunch of movie trailers for quirky family dramatic comedies strung together. Not five minutes goes by without two montages to songs (I’m shocked the soundtrack CD wasn’t available in the lobby) and one instrumental. There are no scenes in the whole movie, just snippets. Half scenes, missing their beginning and ending.

I thought, at the beginning, director Murro was just doing a–by now, very familiar–indie introduction to his characters with the montages. He wasn’t. He was just making the movie. Murro is a bad director, but in interesting ways at least. He doesn’t do establishing shots, he doesn’t understand headroom, nor does he account for interior dimensions. If it weren’t for one interesting shot (Dennis Quaid turning and pointing left while on the right side of a Panavision frame), I’d call him all together atrocious.

As for the writer, I really can’t tell. It’s possible Mark Poirier wrote a decent movie and it got cut to shreds in post-production. Or maybe he did write this one, which Murro ruined. Same script, all instrumental–well-scored–sometimes drowning out dialogue and fifteen or twenty minutes shorter, Smart People would have really been a quirky movie, instead of a packaged attempt at an indie crossover success.

And it’s pretty obvious the filmmakers aren’t very smart themselves. It’s in their handling of the material and, after some amusing scenes, it gets mildly offensive. But then–and here’s where I’ll shock myself typing it–Sarah Jessica Parker shows up. She gives the best performance in the film. Had the movie been about her–like it was for ten or fifteen minutes of montages (so figure around forty-five montages)–and the weird family she encounters, it would have been a screwy “Addams Family” knockoff. But it isn’t. Her performance, however, is excellent.

Second best is Thomas Haden Church, because he’s a supporting character and the fact the script doesn’t give him a character doesn’t matter so much. It really hurts Dennis Quaid, who–at times–can be seen to be acting, but to no real purpose. He and Parker have some chemistry though.

Ellen Page is one-note. Look, she’s an acerbic bitch. Ha. Funny. Not at all impressive by her.

Unfortunately, the movie manages to get worse as it closes, since it dismisses three of its four plot threads. It doesn’t forget them, it just makes them all better so the movie can end. Wait, no. Four of five, I forgot the last scene.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Noam Murro; written by Mark Poirier; director of photography, Toby Irwin; edited by Robert Frazen and Yana Gorskaya; music by Nuno Bettencourt; production designer, Patti Podesta; produced by Bridget Johnson, Michael Costigan, Michael London and Bruna Papandrea; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Lawrence), Sarah Jessica Parker (Janet), Thomas Haden Church (Chuck), Ellen Page (Vanessa), Ashton Holmes (James), Christine Lahti (Nancy), David Denman (William) and Camille Mana (Missy).


Extreme Measures (1996, Michael Apted)

Thanks to a frantic trip through the New York skyline and Danny Elfman’s familiar score, Extreme Measures’s opening credits play like an unused Batman sequel opening… until the two naked guys run out on to the street. It’s an odd opening (and the naked guys and their plight are compelling enough one forgets Elfman until his credit comes up… then the opening makes more sense).

Strangely, Elfman quickly shifts gears and turns in a reasonable thriller score. Apted’s a great thriller director too–there’s one particular sequence I found myself getting agitated while watching, even though it’s perfectly clear the movie is not going to have some twist ending. In fact, the film gets off to a really unique start and keeps a solid quality pace until the resolution turns out to be a twenty minute, real time sequence. Really drags the movie down.

The reason for Extreme Measures being so damn peculiar is Hugh Grant. I’m not sure if he’s changed lately, but during his 1990s rise, Grant was actually rather unique–every movie, he played a variation on his Four Weddings and a Funeral performance. Had his British accent, that tight smile, the goofy hair. Extreme Measures is like watching some guy who ought to be bickering with Sandra Bullock instead get chased around by crazed FBI agent David Morse (Morse is fine playing a… crazed FBI agent, but I hate seeing him wasted in shallow roles). It’s hilarious and it really does work well for a thriller.

Unfortunately, besides Grant, the cast is questionable. Some of the problems stem from it being a thriller and everyone being a suspect, so there isn’t the opportunity for good character relationships (though a nice, lengthy build-up to a betrayal scene would not have hurt–however, Sarah Jessica Parker is terrible and the betrayal scene might have been centered around her and… it would have instead been awful). It wasn’t until the middle I realized there wasn’t going to be a romance between Parker and Grant. Then I realized it maybe wasn’t even giving the impression there was going to be one. I just assumed; it wasn’t so much anything in the movie, rather Parker was supposed to be playing a regular person… except, regardless of acting talent, Parker is a movie star… which probably made her performance even worse.

Gene Hackman is sort of around–I remember he was revealed as the villain in the trailer and it wouldn’t have been possible to show him as anything else. All of his scenes suggest great villainy and he’s a lot of fun when he’s being the villain, it’s when he supposed to be human too. Doesn’t work, makes Extreme Measures seem unaware of its place as a straight thriller with incredibly goofy aspects.

Bill Nunn’s in it a bit and he’s good, so is John Toles-Bey, so is Paul Guilfoyle. The ending’s failure could have been easily averted, but since Grant’s character actually had very little visual to lose or fight for (he’s doing it because he believes in being a doctor) there’s a bit of a quandary. But the ending they went with simply didn’t work following the twenty minute sequence. They sped the film up and then slowed it too suddenly. They needed to give things actual time to sit; instead the ending feels forced and empty.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Apted; written by Tony Gilroy, based on the novel by Michael Palmer; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Rick Shaine; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Doug Kraner; produced by Elizabeth Hurley; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Hugh Grant (Dr. Guy Luthan), Gene Hackman (Dr. Lawrence Myrick), Sarah Jessica Parker (Jodie Trammel), David Morse (Frank Hare), Bill Nunn (Burke), Paul Guilfoyle (Dr. Jeffrey Manko) and John Toles-Bey (Bobby).


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