Ted Levine

The Mangler (1995, Tobe Hooper), the director’s cut

The Mangler is terrible. One hopes the rumor producer Anant Singh replaced director Hooper is true because the film’s bad enough and desperate enough, you occasionally want to cut it some slack. You can’t, because it’s terrible, but you still kind of wish you could.

Here’s the movie. Small town in Maine (it’s a Stephen King adaptation), evil laundry magnate (Robert Englund in a risible performance) runs the town because he has the demonic laundry machine. It needs the occasionally virgin sacrifice or it starts walking around like a Transformer, just with some of the worst of the worst mid–1990s CGI. Seasoned but sad widower cop Ted Levine does not think this is just some laundry machine accident. There’s something afoot with creepy old Robert Englund who mentally and physically abuses a runaway (Lisa Morris) because he can’t mentally and physically abuse his niece (Vanessa Pike). But then Levine’s brother-in-law (maybe, there was kind of mention of it), Daniel Matmor as the lamest hippie occult nerd ever, convinces Levine of the demonic possession. There’s some more, but not really.

It’s dumb. It’s a dumb movie trying to mix metaphors and genres and it fails over and over again. It’s not even like Levine is holding it together. If he were somehow this great noir detective befuddling his way through The Mangler, it might be something. But he’s not. He’s not good, he’s just affable and shows signs he could be good in a far better film.

Unfortunately, none of the other acting is any good at all. Matmor, Pike, Morris, Demetre Phillips, Jeremy Crutchley (a young guy inexplicably cast as an old man and in tons of make-up!), Englund–they’re all terrible. Maybe Ashley Hayden and Vera Blacker are okay. Maybe. They’re not enough it enough to be worse.

Bad music from Barrington Pheloung, really bad photography from Amnon Salomon.

At some point as the second act is finally wrapping it up, it becomes clear somehow really tried with The Mangler. Maybe producer Singh really thought it’d be able to hope on that legitimate Stephen King adaptation bandwagon. At least one of the three screenwriters did. But it can’t, because it’s terrible. It’s terribly acted, directed, photographed, everything. It’s slow. It’s not scary, it’s not gross.

If this movie didn’t have Ted Levine, it would be the equivalent of watching dog poop dry on the sidewalk.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tobe Hooper; screenplay by Hooper, Stephen David Brooks and Harry Alan Towers, based on the short story by Stephen King; director of photography, Amnon Salomon; edited by David Heitner; music by Barrington Pheloung; production designer, David Barkham; produced by Anant Singh; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Ted Levine (Officer John Hunton), Robert Englund (Bill Gartley), Daniel Matmor (Mark Jackson), Lisa Morris (Lin Sue), Vanessa Pike (Sherry Ouelette), Demetre Phillips (George Stanner), Ashley Hayden (Annette Gillian), Vera Blacker (Mrs. Adelle Frawley) and Jeremy Crutchley (J.J.J. Pictureman).


The Fast and the Furious (2001, Rob Cohen)

An undercover cop (Paul Walker) finds himself drawn into a criminal underworld with a charismatic leader (Vin Diesel)! There’s not much original about The Fast and the Furious. What the screenwriters don’t lift out of Point Break, there’s director Cohen grabbing car chase related moments out of Lethal Weapon 3 and so on. Well, Cohen also does have a neat Duel reference too.

Oh, right. I should try to discuss The Fast and the Furious, not just list all the other movies it rips off.

Diesel’s fine. Walker’s bad. Michelle Rodriguez’s bad. No one else leaves an impression. Except Ted Levine, who should know better.

The movie has this strange disconnect between Cohen’s more traditional cops and robbers bro-mance and the pervasive, overbearing soundtrack. Whole sequences are just set to a song, seemingly chosen just because it’s loud and sounds cool. Peter Honess’s editing is deaf to the corresponding songs; even if they match the narrative, Honess can’t figure out where to cut them. The first half of the movie feels entirely different from the second, mostly because BT’s sentimental score completely replaces the Top 40 selections.

Another interesting disconnect is the one between how Cohen visualizes the race scenes and how the script talks about them. Diesel gets a long monologue about how it feels to drive and Cohen’s best idea for visualizing the experience is to make it play like a sci-fi movie. Time slows down and there’s bullet-time.

But time is just a magazine.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Cohen; screenplay by Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist and David Ayer, based on a story by Thompson and a magazine article by Ken Li; director of photography, Ericson Core; edited by Peter Honess; music by BT; production designer, Waldemar Kalinowski; produced by Neal H. Moritz; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia Toretto), Rick Yune (Johnny Tran), Chad Lindberg (Jesse), Johnny Strong (Leon), Matt Schulze (Vince), Noel Gugliemi (Hector), Vyto Ruginis (Harry), Thom Barry (Agent Bilkins) and Ted Levine (Sgt. Tanner).


A Single Shot (2013, David M. Rosenthal)

A Single Shot is the best film noir I’ve seen in a long time. Director Rosenthal eschews trying to make a neo-noir and just sets a film noir in some backwoods region. It’s never specified and it doesn’t really matter. It’s beautiful and dangerous. From the first hunting sequence, there’s always danger in Shot.

Sam Rockwell plays a ne’er do well who finds himself in more trouble than usual when he crosses paths with some dangerous ex-cons. Of course, it doesn’t help they somehow know his best friend (Jeffrey Wright), his estranged wife (Kelly Reilly) and even his lawyer (William H. Macy). It’s when all these connections become clear–Macy repeatedly talks about what a small town everyone is living in–Shot’s noir status becomes clear.

Sure, Rosenthal and writer Matthew F. Jones make Rockwell’s character far more sympathetic than the traditional noir protagonist, which initially makes Shot feel a little more like a strange Kentucky Hitchcock picture, but it’s noir. When it the whole picture unravels and reveals all its strange connections through time… it’s noir.

Rockwell’s lead performance is amazing. If it were just him doing a one man show, it’d probably still be an excellent film. But Shot has an unbelievably good supporting cast. Wright’s fantastic–like he and Rockwell were competing for who could be more devastating in slurred monologue. Ted Levine’s got a great scene, Ophelia Lovibond is awesome. Joe Anderson and Jason Isaacs are terrifying as the villains.

Shot is great.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David M. Rosenthal; screenplay by Matthew F. Jones, based on his novel; director of photography, Eduard Grau; edited by Dan Robinson; music by Atli Örvarsson; production designer, David Brisbin; produced by Chris Coen, Aaron L. Gilbert, Keith Kjarval and Jeff Rice; released by Tribeca Film.

Starring Sam Rockwell (John Moon), Jeffrey Wright (Simon), Kelly Reilly (Moira), Jason Isaacs (Waylon), Joe Anderson (Obadiah), Ophelia Lovibond (Abbie), Ted Levine (Cecile) and William H. Macy (Pitt).


Bullet (1996, Julien Temple)

The tragedy of Mickey Rourke is not his failed mainstream career. Rather, it’s how he’s never been able to get any filmmakers of note involved in his vanity projects. Bullet‘s an incredibly ambitious, sensitive film… or, with the right production team, it would have been. What remains hints at what could have been–the film’s a character study, a comedy free American family drama (a rarity)–but Rourke’s inability to get notable filmmakers interested consigned it to direct-to-video status. Tupac Shakur’s name might have helped its commercial possibilities, but while Rourke is playing five years younger than his age, Shakur’s playing ten years older. It’s like Julien Temple forget to direct Shakur.

The film’s about three “families.” First and foremost is Rourke’s relationship with brothers Adrien Brody, Ted Levine and their parents. Someone coming home with Bullet, expecting a direct-to-video action shoot ’em up, would be bewildered by where the film goes in its first act, establishing this broken family unit. The film starts with Rourke’s release from prison, but Levine’s a Vietnam vet suffering from schizophrenia, while Brody’s a floundering painter. The film keeps returning to the family, showing these beautifully vulnerable moments–particularly Brody and Levine, but also parents Jerry Grayson and Suzanne Shepherd. Rourke and Shepherd have a wonderful scene together at the end of the second act. There’s a real attempt to take this potentially exploitative subject and give it agonizing depth. The film drowns the viewer in sadness.

There’s also Rourke’s friendship with John Enos III. Enos is a soap actor, but he’s kind of perfect in this film as a primping womanizer. (Enos also provides Bullet‘s only moments of comic relief). But as goofy as Enos gets–the scene listening to “I’m Too Sexy” would be perfect had Julien Temple not screwed up the end–Rourke approaches the friendship from this incredibly humanist perspective. Rourke’s character–the career drug addict who steals from family to score–occasionally reveals these startlingly beautiful moments of human regard. He and Enos have this one amazing scene.

The last relationship is the most problematic. Bullet is also supposed to be about childhood friends Shakur, Rourke and Matthew Powers all grown up, now competing in their respective criminal enterprises. Bullet only runs ninety-five minutes, so there really isn’t time for this subplot. It would work fine as character backstory, but it’s like no one told Shakur about it. His character makes absolutely no sense, which seems out of place for the film. So much of Bullet is about making the viewer understand why these people are they way they are (even if exact events aren’t described).

Besides Shakur, the big problem is Julien Temple. Bullet‘s highly stylized thanks to all Temple’s music video work and he can compose some fine shots. He just can’t string them together into a scene. His attempts at action scenes are awkward and painful to watch. The editor, Niven Howie, has to share some of the blame–there’s one particular scene when Brody runs into someone. The way Temple shot it and Howie edited it, it appears Brody aimed for the guy. Except… the script makes it clear he did not. So maybe Temple didn’t read the script either.

Rourke’s performance is outstanding, no shock, but Ted Levine’s better. His character could easily be too much, too cartoonish, but Levine makes him real. The scenes with Levine and Shepherd are just great.

I’ve seen Bullet a couple times before–and had the same reaction each time–but as time passes and American cinema abandons adult dramas… Rourke’s unfulfilled potential gets increasingly more tragic.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Julien Temple; written by Mickey Rourke and Bruce Rubenstein; director of photography, Crescenzo Notarile; edited by Niven Howie; production designer, Christopher Nowak; produced by John Flock; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Mickey Rourke (Butch Stein), Adrien Brody (Ruby Stein), John Enos III (Lester), Ted Levine (Louis Stein), Jerry Grayson (Sol Stein), Suzanne Shepherd (Cookie Stein), Matthew Powers (Paddy), Jerry Dean (Fingers), Larry Romano (Frankie Eyelashes) and Tupac Shakur (Tank).


The Silence of the Lambs (1991, Jonathan Demme)

No matter how hard Howard Shore’s score tries, The Silence of the Lambs is just a serial killer movie. I knew it was just a serial killer movie–that realization had occurred to me quite a long time ago–but its adherence to genre standards are still somewhat surprising. The movie wastes so much time on Anthony Hopkins, when he really has only a little to do with the actual story. Even taking into account he brings Jodie Foster into the big case, it doesn’t exactly matter. Foster’s momentous life change in the narrative is becoming an FBI agent, as the closing ceremony attests. Had the movie been about this cadet who got sucked into a huge case, ended up solving it by accident while having these disturbing encounters… well, then it would have made some sense.

The novel was a bestseller and, I’m assuming, Ted Tally felt the need to closely adapt it in regards to Hannibal Lecter. But what the script does is leave the Hopkins and Foster story incomplete while only giving a cursory examination of the actual investigation. Worse, Jonathan Demme lets the Lecter malarky distract from the one thing he has going. The escape, for example, eats up a bunch of running time–why, because the viewer is supposed to think the serial killer is cool for getting away so smart. The escape scene, the revelation of his intelligence and fast thinking, is not treated as a horrific event, rather something to be admired. It plays well on screen, sure, but we’re supposed to be admiring a serial killer.

That one thing Demme had? The way every single male in the first half of the movie ogled or propositioned Foster. It created a disquieting atmosphere and, when I was giving Demme some credit, gave the appearance of having some analog with the story of a man trying to become a woman. I don’t know how, but it doesn’t matter, because Demme flushed the whole subtext down the toilet once he got to do his big escape scene (with two cameos from Demme regulars, Buzz Kilman and Chris Isaak). The rampant sexism thing was never going to work or make Silence somehow special, but at least it would have been an interesting failure.

The acting’s okay. Hopkins has some okay moments, some not. Lots of the problems come from Demme’s annoying direction–he does his whole “stare directly into the camera while speaking” thing here. Foster’s equally problematic, because her character is never believable. I can’t picture her eating a sandwich, for instance, and the whole thing about her being really ambitious (masking insecurity), but she never shows it.

As the serial killer, Ted Levine is great. Anthony Heald is also great. Scott Glenn’s role is terribly written.

Demme runs hot and cold. With the exception of his close-ups, almost everything is good. The end, for instance, is rather scary.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Demme; screenplay by Ted Tally, based on the novel by Thomas Harris; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Craig McKay; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Kristi Zea; produced by Kenneth Utt, Edward Saxon and Ronald M. Bozman; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Jodie Foster (Clarice Starling), Anthony Hopkins (Dr. Hannibal Lecter), Scott Glenn (Jack Crawford), Anthony Heald (Dr. Frederick Chilton), Ted Levine (Jame Gumb), Frankie Faison (Barney Matthews), Kasi Lemmons (Ardelia Mapp), Brooke Smith (Catherine Martin), Paul Lazar (Pilcher) and Dan Butler (Roden).


Switchback (1997, Jeb Stuart)

I’m having a hard time understanding certain aspects of Switchback. Primarily, Dennis Quaid’s terrible performance. I’m wondering if Jeb Stuart instructed him to imitate a log or if it was just Quaid’s read on the character. To be fair (to Stuart, not to Quaid), the character is a pretend protagonist. Stuart’s more interested in his Texas county sheriff election or the men working the railroad than he is in his main characters. Switchback has four main characters–Quaid, Danny Glover, Jared Leto and R. Lee Ermey. In many ways, even though it’s part of the 1990s serial killer boom (ruined by Dino De Laurentiis turning Hannibal Lector into a superhero–I’m using ‘ruined’ lightly), it’s a 1970s road movie.

I mean, Stuart is so interested in Ermey’s election and Glover’s railroad stories, Quaid’s renegade FBI agent and Leto’s medical school dropout are essentially ignored. Both characters get speeches to other characters (big shock, Glover and Ermey) and I suppose one could read a juxtapose between the two duets (Quaid and Ermey, Leto and Glover). I hesitate to even suggest Stuart was going for it–past his somewhat neat plotting, his ambitions seem to run very low–except there is a lot of careful attention played to the changes in the killer’s behavior, his motives and his general cognitive reasoning. It’s real interesting stuff because Stuart plays it so casual.

Glover’s great, Ermey’s good, Ted Levine’s great–Leto’s better than I expected but probably because Quaid is worse than I could have imagined.

A big feature of the film, which was originally called Going West in America, is the lack of women. In fact, the film could be called… Men Without Women. The women in the film are either victims, secretaries or unheard voices on telephones (who are absolutely supportive of their rogue FBI agent husbands). Stuart’s just fascinated by these men who work only with men, who rely only on other men… and he seems somewhat aware of it, as there’s a scene with a waitress wondering why Leto’s so weird around her.

There might be something in Leto’s missing back-story about it.

But Switchback isn’t terrible–the election stuff is somewhat engaging and Glover carries his scenes wonderfully. He’s having a lot of fun. Stuart is not a bad director–he seems a wee bit uncomfortable with a Panavision frame however–and his composition and setting go a long way toward that 1970s feel….

Even if the whole thing feels like a movie Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford would have made.

And the end, surprisingly, is rather effective, even though it leaves lots unresolved and there’s an unbelievable character there–and a rather significant one missing (is that obscure enough–I mean, it is a serial killer movie).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jeb Stuart; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Conrad Buff; music by Basil Poledouris; production designer, Jeff Howard; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Danny Glover (Bob Goodall), Dennis Quaid (Frank LaCrosse), Jared Leto (Lane Dixon), R. Lee Ermey (Sheriff Buck Olmstead), Ted Levine (Nate), William Fichtner (McGinnis) and Leo Burmester (Shorty).


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