Tangerine Dream

Firestarter (1984, Mark L. Lester)

If I tried really hard, would I be able to think of something nice to say about Firestarter? I was going to complement some of Tangerine Dream’s score–not all of it, but some of it–but it turns out it’s not so much a score as a selection of otherwise unreleased Tangerine Dream tracks director Lester picked out. It makes sense a lot of the music doesn’t work knowing that situation, because no way Lester is going to make any significantly good choices for the film.

The film simply has nothing going for it. There are no good performances; watching Firestarter, which is exceptionally boring in addition to being stupid, I wondered more what possessed certain actors to sign on. What the heck is Art Carney doing in this film, much less married to Louise Fletcher? There’s a sixteen year age difference and it looks like about ten more. Carney looks ancient, Fletcher looks great. How did they meet? Why does he complain to strangers she wasn’t able to bear him daughters? Why is so much of Firestarter about old men–Art Carney, George C. Scott, Martin Sheen–fixating on Drew Barrymore? She’s not even energetic enough to be obnoxious. Sure, Lester directs her terribly, but she’s still bored. She can be shooting fireballs out of her face and be bored in Firestarter.

As Barrymore’s father, Brian Keith tries but doesn’t succeed at anything. Stanley Mann’s script is too lousy, the story beats are just terrible, the dialogue’s weak, the characters are weak. But it fits for the film, which doesn’t have anything going for it technically either. Giuseppe Ruzzolini’s cinematography is weak. Lester shoots the film Panavision for eventual pan-and-scan cropping. There’s constant empty space and Ruzzolini’s not lighting anything interesting in it. Firestarter is not creepy, it’s not scary, it’s dumb.

And the real problem is George C. Scott. He’s George C. Scott and he’s humiliating himself. Scott probably gives Firestarter’s worst performance. It’s this weird, terrible macho role and someone should’ve told him no. Or maybe he got himself an awesome swimming pool with the paycheck, but it’s terrible acting. He’s not even hamming it up–Sheen at least bites at some of the scenery–Scott just plays it badly and without enthusiasm.

Firestarter’s dumb and it’s bad. And it’s long. The special effects aren’t even good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mark L. Lester; screenplay by Stanley Mann, based on the novel by Stephen King; director of photography, Giuseppe Ruzzolini; edited by David Rawlins and Ronald Sanders; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, Giorgio Postiglione; produced by Frank Capra Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring David Keith (Andy), Drew Barrymore (Charlie), George C. Scott (Rainbird), Martin Sheen (Hollister), Moses Gunn (Doctor Pynchot), Art Carney (Irv Manders), Louise Fletcher (Norma Manders) and Freddie Jones (Doctor Wanless).


Sorcerer (1977, William Friedkin)

It’s incredible how much concern director William Friedkin is able to get for his characters in Sorcerer. Now, the film’s really kind of like four or five movies in one–there are four prologues, with very full ones for Bruno Cremer and Roy Scheider, then there’s the story of Cremer, Scheider and Amidou (who also gets a prologue, just not a substantial one) in South America, then there’s the story of Ramon Bieri and his American oil company and how it affects the local South American population, then there’s the story of these four guys who have to drive dangerous chemicals to an oil well fire.

Sorcerer is packed.

The “real” movie, the actual drive across dangerous terrain, starts almost halfway into the film. It’s amazing stuff. The film’s beautifully edited by Bud S. Smith; he and Friedkin create impossibly tense situations. The success is even more impressive because none of the characters, save Cremer to some degree, are likable. Scheider’s a bit of a jerk, a bit of a moron.

But for about seventy-five percent of its run time, Sorcerer is glorious. Friedkin aims high and hits every note just right. Then things fall apart. There’s a lengthy, silly hallucination sequence. There’s odd characterizations, there’s too emphatic Tangerine Dream (who Friedkin usually let take a back seat to the great sound design). Sorcerer unravels in the home stretch.

The good stuff and the great stuff still makes the film worthwhile. It’s masterful work from Friedkin and Smith.

Bad finish though.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by William Friedkin; screenplay by Walon Green, based on a novel by Georges Arnaud; directors of photography, John M. Stephens and Dick Bush; edited by Bud S. Smith; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, John Box; released by Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures.

Starring Roy Scheider (‘Dominguez’), Bruno Cremer (‘Serrano’), Francisco Rabal (Nilo), Amidou (‘Martinez’), Ramon Bieri (Corlette), Peter Capell (Lartigue), Karl John (‘Marquez’), Friedrich von Ledebur (‘Carlos’), Chico Martínez (Bobby Del Rios), Joe Spinell (Spider) and Rosario Almontes (Agrippa).


Vision Quest (1985, Harold Becker)

Linda Fiorentino might be a year older than Matthew Modine back she's supposed to be playing a worldly twenty-one year-old to his eighteen year-old high school senior in Vision Quest and they sure don't look it. Modine looks about twenty-four, his age at the time of filming. Fiorentino looks twenty-one. She isn't the problem with the film (she nearly makes it worth a look on her own).

The problem isn't even Modine, who's very earnest, just physically unable to portray his character. The problem's Darryl Ponicsan's awkward script. The film's technically perfect–great photography from Owen Roizman, great editing from Maury Winetrobe–and Becker does compose his shots well, he just can't make the script work. It's superficial and set back; Modine's barely got a character to play. All of his character relationships are a joke–Ponicsan implies people other than Modine having stories, but Fiorentino's the only one to pull it off–even though the supporting cast is superb.

Wait, Michael Schoeffling gets an impossible role. A better script would juxtapose Schoeffling and Modine, both growing up without mothers, except Ponicsan wants to fixate on Modine's asinine crush on Fiorentino. Even more inexplicable is why Fiorentino would go for Modine.

But Ronny Cox, Harold Sylvester, Charles Hallahan and J.C. Quinn are all really good as the adults around Modine. His obvious not-teenage age isn't their fault.

The approach–focusing on Modine, letting everything else be background–would work if the background were well-done. It isn't.

The soundtrack–top forties, lame Tangerine Dream–doesn't help.

Fiorentino's fantastic, however.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Harold Becker; screenplay by Darryl Ponicsan, based on the novel by Terry Davis; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Maury Winetrobe; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, Bill Malley; produced by Peter Guber and Jon Peters; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Matthew Modine (Louden Swain), Linda Fiorentino (Carla), Michael Schoeffling (Kuch), Ronny Cox (Louden’s Dad), Harold Sylvester (Tanneran), Charles Hallahan (Coach), Daphne Zuniga (Margie Epstein) and J.C. Quinn (Elmo).


The Keep (1983, Michael Mann)

For almost fifty percent of its run time, every shot one of Michael Mann and Alex Thomson’s shots in The Keep is extraordinary. Mann’s seems more concerned with precise composition than he does narrative and Thomson’s photography perfectly complements it. So, while the film isn’t much good in its first half, at least it’s wondrous to watch.

Then there’s the second half, after Ian McKellen (as a sickly historian) and Alberta Watson (as his daughter) show up. Maybe The Keep is supposed to be a metaphor for Watson losing her virginity and abandonment and loss or something, but it’s not. It’s a complete mess and a soap opera between Watson and Scott Glenn (as a savior figure) doesn’t help simplify it. Worse, their romance–and McKellen’s decision to, as a Jew, to side with a demonic evil against the Nazis–confuses the things Mann’s able to do right in The Keep.

Except the German army is about all Mann does right. He’s ripping off Das Boot–with Jürgen Prochnow as the sympathetic Wehrmacht commander who doesn’t care for the Nazi stuff. It’s a decent enough rip-off and not uninteresting (Nazis versus demons). Gabriel Byrne shows up as the S.S. guy and bickers with Prochnow before they both disappear so Mann can focus on McKellen.

Prochnow’s okay, Byrne’s great, McKellen’s awful, Watson’s weak, Glenn’s unintentionally hilarious. Mann’s dialogue and plotting is terrible. There’s nothing good about the film except the special effects and Thomson’s photography.

At least it’s relatively short.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay by Mann, based on the novel by F. Paul Wilson; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Dov Hoenig; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, John Box; produced by Gene Kirkwood and Hawk Koch; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Scott Glenn (Glaeken Trismegestus), Alberta Watson (Eva Cuza), Jürgen Prochnow (Captain Klaus Woermann), Robert Prosky (Father Mihail Fonescu), Gabriel Byrne (Major Kaempffer), William Morgan Sheppard (Alexandru) and Ian McKellen (Dr. Theodore Cuza).


Near Dark (1987, Kathryn Bigelow)

The last time I tried to watch Near Dark, I failed miserably. This time I suppose I made it through the running time–I think that still image at the end is supposed to be some profound statement–but not all of my brain cells made it with me. They abandoned ship as the film progressed.

The only conceivable reason I can come up with for Near Dark‘s popularity is its mid-1990s rarity. It was a reuniting of memorable Aliens cast members and it wasn’t readily available on video–there was an old HBO Home Video release and I’m not sure it got another release until DVD. There was a laserdisc too, I believe, and it went for a lot on eBay (even pan and scan).

Bigelow doesn’t direct it poorly. She’s definitely mediocre, but her direction is far more competent than her script. Apparently she and Eric Red were going for a modern Western. They fail miserably, sort of because Bigelow–as a director–lets that analog be so quiet. Tim Thomerson searching for his “abducted” son is a Western, but it’s not if the main character is the son (a trying really hard Adrian Pasdar).

Lance Henriksen, Jenny Wright and Thomerson are good. Bill Paxton’s bad, like he’s Hudson doing a hick vampire impression. Jenette Goldstein and Joshua John Miller are both atrocious.

Near Dark‘s one of Tangerine Dream’s better scores and it does have great special effects.

But those don’t save it from being incredibly stupid.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow; written by Bigelow and Eric Red; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Howard E. Smith; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, Stephen Altman; produced by Steven-Charles Jaffe; released by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group.

Starring Adrian Pasdar (Caleb Colton), Jenny Wright (Mae), Lance Henriksen (Jesse Hooker), Bill Paxton (Severen), Jenette Goldstein (Diamondback), Tim Thomerson (Loy Colton), Joshua John Miller (Homer) and Marcie Leeds (Sarah Colton).


Thief (1981, Michael Mann)

With Thief, Mann leaves plain an American standard–the gangster movie. Halfway through the film, I wondered how it fit, as the energy the film opens with is gone. The film moves these awkwardly handled scenes without much flare. These scenes are presented as the standard dramatic scenes, but with something not quite right about the storytelling in these very familiar scenes. Then it becomes clear.

During the big jewel heist–which Mann could play as an audio and visual feast, but doesn’t–instead he sucks the romance out of the cinematic glitz. In the dystopian bleakness of Thief, nothing matters (not a philosophy Mann could hold on to for long), not friends, not family.

As protagonist James Caan moves through this mobster’s house, even though it’s a crime figure’s home, it’s lived in, versus Caan’s, which looks like a photograph. Seeing Caan in that setting, it’s clear how his presence in that house, in everyone else’s lives too, reveals it all to be a complete illusion. Anything not as bleak and empty as Caan is false.

Caan is great. Tuesday Weld is great. James Belushi’s really good, which is odd, as is Robert Prosky. Willie Nelson is good in his two scenes.

In the second of Nelson’s scenes, it’s clear Caan’s not a reliable narrator and Mann forces a barrier between the audience and the film. The film exists on its own. The characters aren’t beholden to the viewing experience of the audience. Thief‘s contemptuous of such a relationship.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay and story by Mann, based on a book by John Seybold; director of photography, Donald E. Thorin; edited by Dov Hoenig; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, Mel Bourne; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Ronnie Caan; released by United Artists.

Starring James Caan (Frank), Tuesday Weld (Jessie), Willie Nelson (Okla), James Belushi (Barry), Robert Prosky (Leo), Tom Signorelli (Attaglia), Dennis Farina (Carl), Nick Nickeas (Nick), W.R. Brown (Mitch), Norm Tobin (Guido) and John Santucci (Urizzi).


Risky Business (1983, Paul Brickman), the director’s cut

There are three things I want to discuss about Risky Business (there isn’t room to cover the fourth, why Tom Cruise is so excellent in this film then mostly terrible for the next twelve years). The subjects are director’s cuts, teen movies and this film’s portrayal of women. All three are somewhat interconnected and maybe the director’s cut of the film is the best place to start.

Risky Business has no official director’s cut. One would have to make it for him or herself. It’s worth figuring out how to do. The original version of Risky Business, for those who don’t know, ends with Tom Cruise–an upper-middle class, three point one GPA white high school student–getting into Princeton because he’s running a brothel when the admissions interviewer shows up. It’s a slam dunk for American capitalism and, famously, not the ending director Paul Brickman originally went with. I think Leonard Maltin even mentions it in his capsule review….

I sat waiting for it, having heard about it for eleven plus years, knowing what was coming next… only for it never to arrive. Something else happens instead, something wonderful.

It’s hard to pick an adjective to describe the film’s portrayal of women–particularly Rebecca De Mornay’s late teens call girl (it’s always implied she’s only a little bit older than Cruise’s high school senior). The film objectifies her initially, then defames her as a con artist. Neither are really positive. The first makes sense for a movie about a teenager who ends up running a brothel with his classmates as customers. The second moves the story along. Where Risky Business is singular among the popular teen movies of the 1980s (it’s telling Business came just before the onslaught of John Hughes’s pictures, which demolished the genre in its infancy) is in the contradiction. That first sense, the objectification sense, it’s a sham. De Mornay’s character is slowly revealed to be a vulnerable, intelligent, frightened young woman. Cruise discovers these things at the same rate the viewer does and the film’s perspective changes as he does. Risky Business has lots of narration and Cruise has to sell it all. He succeeds.

The film takes responsibility for its characters and their complex relationships–both implied and on screen–with their peers and their parents. It’s never cheap, which is what sets it so far apart from the decade’s subsequent teen films. I’m not sure if I can think, past Risky Business and Rebel Without a Cause of a “teen” picture so maturely told. But the director’s cut is what puts Business in this too small class.

IMDb sort of spoils the director’s cut ending for anyone interested, but only slightly. It’s impossible to communicate the scene and the effect in words, if only because Brickman–for a first time director–not only knows how to compose a shot and how to direct actors, he also knows how to pick music. The Tangerine Dream score in Risky Business does much of the film’s stylistic heavy lifting. Brickman does a handful of a snazzy moves–some with editing, some with the narration, some with lighting and slowing down the film (nothing ostentatious, but certainly a little different from the rest of his approach)–and the score tempers it. The snazzy moves seem more natural because the score’s already come in and prepared the viewer. It’s a beautiful fit.

The acting–not just Cruise and De Mornay, who are both fantastic and have a great chemistry (even though her career’s had a far different trajectory than his, they really ought to do another film together)–is great. Brickman assembles an amazing supporting cast. Joe Pantaliano has one of the flashier roles as Guido the Killer Pimp, who enjoys honey in his tea (Brickman’s deft touches are another joy). Bronson Pinchot’s actually really good, as is Curtis Armstrong (but less surprise with him). Bruce A. Young and Nicholas Pryor are also great in small roles.

I first saw Risky Business about twelve years ago. It impressed the hell out of me. I’ve seen it in between then and now and the last time, it didn’t. I’m not sure how the theatrical version would sit with me today–it’s hard to believe I’d think much less of it, given that amazing sequence (both filmmaking and acting) when Cruise heads into the city to find De Mornay–but the director’s cut is sublime.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Paul Brickman; directors of photography, Bruce Surtees and Reynaldo Villalobos; edited by Richard Chew; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, William J. Cassidy; produced by Jon Avnet and Steve Tisch; released by the Geffen Company.

Starring Tom Cruise (Joel Goodsen), Rebecca De Mornay (Lana), Joe Pantoliano (Guido), Richard Masur (Rutherford), Bronson Pinchot (Barry), Curtis Armstrong (Miles), Nicholas Pryor (Joel’s Father), Janet Carroll (Joel’s Mother), Shera Danese (Vicki), Raphael Sbarge (Glenn) and Bruce A. Young (Jackie).


Rainbow Drive (1990, Bobby Roth)

Peter Weller’s an L.A. cop with an in-ground swimming pool and a case his bosses don’t want him to solve. So what’s he going to do? He’s going to solve it, boring the viewer to sleep while he does too. It’s not Weller’s fault. It’s the script. And the direction, but I’ll get to it in a minute. The script has this wonderful, unspeakably awful way of every time a character talks to another character, they refer to that other character by name. It’s like the screenwriters went to a seminar and heard the use of names is good for emphasis. Revealing emphasis or some such nonsense.

I had intended starting this post with a comparison between made-for-cable cop mysteries with b-movies from the 1950s, but Rainbow Drive is so bad–well, I guess, it’s bad like most of those 1950s b-movies. Besides the terrible script, and the inability to make a case of Chinatown-level confusion worth unraveling, it’s director obviously thinks in terms of television sets. Bobby Roth directed one episode of “Miami Vice” and, with his Tangerine Dream score going in Drive, thinks he’s Michael Mann. To say he’s not is such an understatement, it’s not worth exploring. TV movies do not have to look like TV shows. Orson Welles composed quite a bit in 4:3 and it doesn’t look like a TV show. Roth’s also a terrible director of actors. Rainbow Drive has familiar faces saying bad lines and generally embarrassing themselves, particularly Bruce Weitz.

I could try to defend Weller’s performance in this one, but it’s pretty damn bad. David Caruso’s real good though, back when he acted. He takes a noteless role and makes it interesting to watch.

On the plus side, however, some of the second unit shots on L.A. are cool looking.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bobby Roth; screenplay by Bill Phillips and Bennett Cohen, from a novel by Roderick Thorp; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Henk Van Eeghen; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, Claudio Guzman; produced by John Veitch; aired by Showtime.

Starring Peter Weller (Mike Gallagher), Sela Ward (Laura Demming), David Caruso (Larry Hammond), Tony Jay (Max Hollister), James Laurenson (Hans Roehrig), Jon Gries (Azzolini), Henry G. Sanders (Marvin Burgess), Chris Mulkey (Ira Rosenberg), David Neidorf (Bernie Maxwell), Bruce Weitz (Dan Crawford), Chelcie Ross (Tom Cutler), Rutanya Alda (Marge Crawford), Megan Mullally (Ava Zieff) and Kathryn Harrold (Christine).


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