Whoopi Goldberg

In the Gloaming (1997, Christopher Reeve)

In the Gloaming is a qualified success. If you’re trying to go for humanizing a guy dying of AIDS while his upper middle class White yuppie family is slow to realize he’s a dying person who they probably ought not to avoid because they’ll regret it… it does that job. Gloaming is an hour-long HBO movie, based on a New Yorker story, all set in and around Glenn Close and David Strathairn’s picture perfect home in Westchester County, New York. Straithairn presumably works in the city, but it’s never actually clear. Doesn’t really matter. Just they’ve got enough money to have a gorgeous house but no servants.

And son Robert Sean Leonard has come home to die.

The film’s a series of what you know the filmmakers would prefer you think of as vignettes, as Close bonds with Leonard while Strathairn gets pissy. Close has to overcome the fear she’s responsibility for Leonard being gay because she was nice to him as a kid. She wasn’t as nice to his sister, Bridget Fonda, who grew up to be too much of a yuppie even for Close, off married with child, but the son and husband don’t come around because AIDS is gross and so’s Leonard being gay. But it’s okay because Fonda’s going to cry when he’s dead? Maybe. Not resolved. The vignettes are more like clips of the character development without any follow-up. Like when Strathairn, finally coming to terms with Leonard’s impending death, thinks it’s a good time to go for some martial relations with Close. No follow-up on that one.

Plus Whoopi Goldberg’s just around as the nurse, who eventually makes Close feel better about herself.

The film’s… comprised. Screenwriter Will Scheffer does not have the chops to make the strained manners of the bourgeois somehow say more than if Strathairn actually sat down and had a conversation with Leonard. They talk a lot about how it’s going to happen, then never does. Because Strathairn’s a terrible guy, even though he grows tomatoes for Close to cook him even though he doesn’t like tomatoes much. But we’ve got to understand Strathairn’s position–he just wanted what must be a macho man in Westchester County 1997, a tennis playing gardener man. Instead he got son Leonard, who went off to Berkeley and became gay. Meanwhile, why doesn’t anyone love Fonda enough, she’s doing her part, working full-time and wearing pantsuits and being mean to her own son so he doesn’t turn out gay.

Yes, Gloaming is from 1997. Yes, it’s from HBO. Yes, it’s from a New Yorker story (but 1997 New Yorker so… I mean… right?). But it has a lot it’s not willing to address. Scared to address. Leaving Strathairn, Fonda, and Goldberg with somewhat pointless parts. Fonda’s scary good as the shittiest human being and Goldberg’s at least likable. Strathairn’s just tiresome. He’s a one note caricature, with some “details” thrown in to round him. Doesn’t work.

So after two paragraphs dunking on it, why is In the Gloaming a qualified success?

Because the stuff with Leonard and Close, as they bond and work through his imminent mortality—mind you, they don’t get real character development in the script because of that vignette structure–it’s great work from Close and Leonard. The script limits them, sure. But Reeve works the hell out of their scenes together. And it resolves their relationship just right. Then ruins it with the actual last scene, which is an eye-roll and a half.

But Leonard and Close. They’re real good. They do so much with… not so little, but so… comprised a material. They refuse to let it limit their performances, which is cool.

Reeve’s direction is fine. He likes crane shots and doesn’t get to do enough of them. Good photography from Frederick Elmes. David Ray’s editing is a little too hurried, which is strange because of the the oddly manipulative nature montages–it’s like HBO is slamming their affluent viewers over the head with, “It could be your sons too, White women ages 45-55 who like Glenn Close!”—but then Ray’s got no sense of cutting when it comes to the dialogue scenes.

It’s like Reeve tried to direct it as a stage adaptation but without the play backbone.

Very heavily Scottish-influenced Dave Grusin score, which is weird (and figures into the plot); it’s a good score, it’s just a lot.

But it’s definitely a missed opportunity overall. It’s aged like flat root beer.

So, technically, earnestly, but unenthusiastically:

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Reeve; teleplay by Will Scheffer, based on a story by Alice Elliott Dark; director of photography, Frederick Elmes; edited by David Ray; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Andrew Jackness; costume designer, Jane Greenwood; produced by Nellie Nugiel; aired by HBO.

Starring Glenn Close (Janet), Robert Sean Leonard (Danny), David Strathairn (Martin), Bridget Fonda (Anne), and Whoopi Goldberg (Myrna).


Rat Race (2001, Jerry Zucker)

If you had told me there was a movie with John Cleese in funny fake teeth and Smash Mouth as a plot point (a positive one), I don’t know I would’ve believed it. But if there is going to be a movie with John Cleese in funny fake teeth and Smash Mouth as in a positive cameo… it’s going to be a movie like Rat Race. Rat Race is a big budget situation comedy masquerading as a madcap comedy adventure. Cleese is a Las Vegas casino owner who sends six or seven or twelve random people on a race from Vegas to New Mexico. Whoever gets there first gets two million dollars. Little do the contestants know Cleese has arranged the whole thing as a bet for a group of high owners at the casino.

Though it wouldn’t matter much because the stuff with Cleese and the high rollers is just for interlude gags.

The main race contestants are Cuba Gooding Jr. and Jon Lovitz. Maybe not in screen time (but maybe in screen time, it’s not worth counting), but definitely in extreme gags. Gooding at one point has stolen a charter busload of “I Love Lucy” Lucy cosplayers and Lovitz kind of kidnaps his family to go on the race with him (he doesn’t tell them about the race because he’s Jon Lovitz and it wouldn’t work if he wasn’t a liar). Then there are the couples. Breckin Meyer is a pointlessly straight-laced young lawyer (his character details don’t matter at all) who gets helicopter pilot Amy Smart involved in the race; he’s crushing on her, she’s not crushing on him. Whoopi Goldberg was at the casino to meet long-lost daughter Lanai Chapman; not long-lost but Goldberg gave her up for adoption. Again, the character details don’t end up mattering at all. Once the couples are paired, they’re paired. Like idiot brothers Seth Green and Vince Vieluf (who apparently dropped his agent for not getting him more face time on Rat Race promotional material, but should’ve sued him for letting him do the role, which has him suffering from an infected tongue ring piercing and unintelligible the whole time—Andy Breckman’s screenplay never goes cheap or obvious when it can do both at once). Green’s the weasel, Vieluf’s the dumb lug. Evil George and Lenny, basically. They talk about splitting up for about a half hour of the film’s near two hour runtime but never actually get around to it. Breckman’s script also has its red herrings to fill runtime.

Because somehow it matters Rat Race goes on for near two hours? Like the runtime is going to give it legitimacy.

The last contestant is Rowan Atkinson, who appears to have done Rat Race in yet another attempt to breakthrough in the Colonies. Snideness aside, Atkinson’s great. Everything he does is great. Even when it’s in his dumb subplot involving jackass ambulance driver Wayne Knight and a transplant heart.

Rat Race is kind of a catch-22. The subplots are so bland, you need someone as bland as Meyer do one of them. And, frankly, Smart too. They’re both middling. She’s a little better, but only because Meyer’s unable to appear to listen or think. Green and Vieluf do a lot of terribly executed, large scale physical humor. Director Zucker isn’t necessarily really bad at the giant sight gags, it’s just he’s using CGI and it’s poorly done. And Thomas E. Ackerman’s photography is bad. It’s more often less competent than competent. So you don’t care Green and Vieluf are one-note because the scenes are so perfunctory, even when they’re effective. Zucker’s got a couple good shots in the movie—establishing shots for the large-scale sight gags—and they’re the same shot. It’s like he has one good shot, but only two opportunities to use it. The rest of the time… middling direction.

Cleese too. He’s really funny. Especially with those fake teeth. But it’s a movie where the joke is John Cleese in some obviously fake fake teeth.

Dave Thomas has a really small part and, much like Atkinson, is able to get away successful. Goldberg isn’t bad, she’s just not successful. The movie ditches her and Chapman pretty quick, after one really funny sequence.

Gooding and Lovitz are both… inoffensive, while managing to also be the least sympathetic characters in the film. Maybe because Gooding’s supposed to somehow be inherently sympathetic because he’s a victim of unfair public shaming and because Lovitz is supposed to be saddled with an annoying family (wife Kathy Najimy wants to see David Copperfeld instead of gamble and spend time with husband Lovitz because… harpy?; the kids are just annoying, but end up being sympathetic because Lovitz is… Lovitz). I already said Atkinson is great. Who else is there… Green and Vieluf. Vieluf’s more likable than Green and probably better. Green just mugs.

Last thing. The music. Not the Smash Mouth performance, which sucks, but the “score” by John Powell, which reuses familiar classical ditties like In the Hall of the Mountain King and some also La Traviata. Trust me, you’ve heard the music. Probably in television commercials because it’s effective music. Just culturally rote. And that music ends up in some big set pieces, so it’s unclear what Powell’s actually bringing to the film other than making it sound consistent with a television commercial.

Rat Race is cheap and obvious but occasionally funny and usually inoffensive.

And Atkinson is exceptional.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jerry Zucker; written by Andy Breckman; director of photography, Thomas E. Ackerman; edited by Tom Lewis; music by John Powell; production designer, Gary Frutkoff; produced by Sean Daniel, Janet Zucker, and Jerry Zucker; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Cuba Gooding Jr. (Owen Templeton), Jon Lovitz (Randy Pear), Rowan Atkinson (Enrico Pollini), Breckin Meyer (Nick Schaffer), Amy Smart (Tracy Faucet), Seth Green (Duane Cody), Vince Vieluf (Blaine Cody), Whoopi Goldberg (Vera Baker), Lanei Chapman (Merrill Jennings), Kathy Najimy (Beverly Pear), Wayne Knight (Zack Mallozzi), Dave Thomas (Harold Grisham), and John Cleese (Donald P. Sinclair).


The Player (1992, Robert Altman)

Whatever his faults (and faulty films), Robert Altman never bought into what anyone said about him–not his critics, not his audience. The Player is an overtly hostile outing. Altman never had much nice to say about the film, as I recall, but he doesn’t try to say nice things with the film itself. He makes this unbelievably concise, unbelievably expository, unbelievably cynical film–the agreement for the viewer is unconditional capitulation to the film’s “dream.” Movies, now more than ever. The Player is a film for the film literate. It doesn’t come with a syllabus, but the references target a particular audience. Altman fans, actually. Altman makes The Player as indictment against those who like his work, yet went to go see The Player.

Hostility is one thing, indifference is another, but The Player is practically open warfare against the viewer. It’s amazing.

Of course, it is based on a novel. Presumably that novel had a similar plot; The Player tracks Tim Robbins’s somewhat successful, but not successful enough Hollywood executive through a murder investigation. The investigation’s into him. At the same time, the sharks are circling at the studio and darn if he just doesn’t want to romance the dead guy’s lady friend.

Altman sets everything up real fast. Not just the ground situation, but the film’s visual language. After an ambitious, self-aware lengthy opening shot, photographer Jean Lépine and Altman keep the moving camera. Only now there are lots of graceful cuts into the movement–Maysie Hoy and Geraldine Peroni’s editing of the film is a sublime achievement. Writer Michael Tolkin (adapting his novel) owes everything to them because Robbins’s romance with Greta Scacchi would never have worked without Hoy and Peroni. Altman doesn’t want the characters to be real because he doesn’t think they deserve it. Then he goes out of his way to make the viewer dislike the characters. But he directs the actors to play it less Hollywood and more real. And Hoy and Peroni cut it do make as emotionally effective as possible. Tolkin’s script’s plotting, especially of the relationship between Robbins and Scacchi, is phenomenal. Maybe his best move in the film, because with a different score, I’ll bet The Player could have been noir. But Altman didn’t want to do a noir, because he hates the characters.

It’s a real complex situation and expertly directed. Altman finds a way to mimic interview style for the many celebrity cameos. Even though The Player is a movie about real Hollywood, it’s clear who is a part of it and who isn’t. Altman’s so dismissive of it all, whether it’s the real Hollywood or the imagined. It’s kind of sad, really, as one of the film’s ideas is that older films were more sincere through their filmmaking. And Altman (and The Player) crap all over that idea. Twice. Like I said, it’s hostile.

Altman’s animosity aside, everything else about The Player is great. Sure, Tolkin’s script only works because of the filmmaking–which is another great meta commentary on the plot–but it does work and it works well. He’s got some great moments for actors and Altman has a phenomenal cast. Dina Merrill has a small but great part because Altman understands how an actor’s performance can resonant through a runtime. The Player is masterful work. Resentful, maybe, but more masterful for it.

Great supporting turns from Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Cynthia Stevenson, Brion James, Lyle Lovett. Scacchi’s good as the love interest but it’s not a great part.

Excellent music from Thomas Newman. Breezy music. The Player is all about smooth movement, whether shots or narrative pace.

And then there’s Robbins. He makes the movie. Robbins makes the movie so much he gets to walk away from it for a while and it’s still his movie (maybe because it takes him so long to get introduced properly in the first place). But Altman gets it, he knows how to make this movie be great and he wants the viewer to know they’re awful for making him do it. We aren’t in on the joke, we are the joke.

Love it.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Altman; screenplay by Michael Tolkin, based on his novel; director of photography, Jean Lépine; edited by Maysie Hoy and Geraldine Peroni; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Stephen Altman; produced by David Brown, Nick Wechsler and Tolkin; released by Fine Line Features.

Starring Tim Robbins (Griffin Mill), Greta Scacchi (June Gudmundsdottir), Cynthia Stevenson (Bonnie Sherow), Vincent D’Onofrio (David Kahane), Fred Ward (Walter Stuckel), Brion James (Joel Levison), Angela Hall (Jan), Peter Gallagher (Larry Levy), Whoopi Goldberg (Detective Avery), Lyle Lovett (Detective DeLongpre), Sydney Pollack (Dick Mellon) and Dina Merrill (Celia).


Star Trek: Generations (1994, David Carson)

Star Trek: Generations has one good sequence in it. The Enterprise has a space battle with the Klingons. It’s too short, paced wrong, but it’s good. Peter E. Berger’s editing for the film is never better and director Carson manages to shoot it well. He doesn’t manage to shoot a lot of Generations well (he’s clearly uncomfortable with Panavision), but that sequence–the film’s biggest in terms of effects–is good.

The rest of Generations? It’s usually inoffensive. Except for John A. Alonzo’s “sad times” photography. Whenever someone is supposed to be sad, there aren’t any lights on in the Enterprise and instead there’s natural lighting. From the nearest sun, I suppose. It sure does make Patrick Stewart look extra sad.

Stewart’s story arc involves him being sad and running across original “Star Trek” captain William Shatner, who is also sad, but for different reasons. Stewart’s performance is okay. Shatner’s is likable, but not very good. His writing is awful–even worse than Stewart’s sad arc–so it’s impossible to blame him. Even though Generations has a lot of strong production values (the effects are quite good), Carson never gives the film a tone. He’s not trying to grow the Star Trek audience, he’s trying to placate the existing one.

Of the supporting cast, Brent Spiner gets the most to do, but only as far as his range goes. He gets to be a silly and stupid android. It’s occasionally fun, occasionally endearing, but it’s just another plot contrivance from Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, who don’t really have a story for anyone.

Except Stewart’s sad story.

Another big problem is Dennis McCarthy’s score. Generations never seems grand enough.

Still, it’s passable. Everyone in the “Next Generation” crew is (intentionally) likable. Malcolm McDowell’s uncommitted to the villain role, which is underwritten; it’s not like Carson could direct him to greatness anyway.

A better script and a better director would have helped a lot.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by David Carson; screenplay by Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, based on a story by Rick Berman, Moore and Braga and “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, John A. Alonzo; edited by Peter E. Berger; music by Dennis McCarthy; production designer, Herman F. Zimmerman; produced by Berman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Patrick Stewart (Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Brent Spiner (Data), LeVar Burton (Geordi), Michael Dorn (Worf), Gates McFadden (Beverly), Marina Sirtis (Troi), Malcolm McDowell (Soran), Barbara March (Lursa), Gwynyth Walsh (B’Etor), James Doohan (Scotty), Walter Koenig (Chekov), Alan Ruck (Capt. Harriman), Jacqueline Kim (Demora), Whoopi Goldberg (Guinan) and William Shatner (Kirk).


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).


Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986, Penny Marshall)

I was just reading–today or yesterday–Ken Levine talk about how there are no “balls-out R-rated” comedies with female leads. (His post is here). Jumpin’ Jack Flash is, obviously, a balls-out R-rated comedy starring a woman. Things have obviously changed in the last twenty years, both in film and television–female stand-ups don’t get TV shows and they don’t become movie stars. I missed Whoopi Goldberg’s career when it happened. My mother didn’t like all her swearing. I did see Ghost however, against my will. Goldberg is definitely a comedy star in Jumpin’ Jack Flash because comedy stars rarely have to act and Goldberg does not act in Jack Flash. She’s appealing enough and occasionally funny, but the film’s so dishonest, it’s hard to see past it. Jumpin’ Jack Flash doesn’t set Goldberg up as a sexual being–as in, a person who has had or ever will have, sex. The same thing happens in most of Denzel Washington’s films between 1989 and 2001, maybe later. These actors are starring with mostly white casts and mostly white “romantic” interests and interracial romance doesn’t play well for most white people. Not if conservatives wanted ABC fined extra for having the Desperate Housewife come on to a black football player. So, while she’s spayed and the racial element is ignored, Goldberg still does an all right job… she’s not responsible for the film’s biggest problems.

The premise of Jumpin’ Jack Flash is a bank worker who communicates with a spy over her computer–this film is from 1986, so just imagine the computers–and gets involved in espionage. They communicate by typing. During the second half of the film, once Goldberg’s heard the spy’s voice, his lines are spoken as they pop up on the computer screen. There’s one great scene when Goldberg isn’t looking at her screen and she still knows he’s typing, because she can hear his voice. Oh… maybe that scene’s not great. It’s a good example, however, of Jumpin’ Jack Flash’s direction. It’s directed by Penny Marshall and I’m using directed in the nicest way possible. Marshall had only had sitcom experience at this point in her… career and it shows. The film lacks any visual interest and, during the most action-orientated scenes, Jumpin’ Jack Flash becomes the antonym for exciting.

So, while Marshall did the film no good, whoever casted it did wonders. John Wood has some great scenes, so does Stephen Collins. The supporting cast features no standout performances, but it’s a laundry list of famous people-to-be: Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Jeroen Krabbé, Jim Belushi, Tracey Ullman and Jamey Sheridan. Very few scenes went by without me recognizing someone. So, however casted it, that person did a good job. Probably the best job in the movie… Because whoever decided to conclude the romance between Goldberg and her (white) spy without a) a kiss or b) hand-holding… Well, that person didn’t do a good job.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Penny Marshall; screenplay by David Franzoni, J.W. Melville, Patricia Irving and Chris Thompson, based on a story by Franzoni; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Mark Goldblatt; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Robert F. Boyle; produced by Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Whoopi Goldberg (Terry Dolittle), Stephen Collins (Marty Phillips), John Wood (Jeremy Talbott), Carol Kane (Cynthia), Annie Potts (Liz Carlson), Peter Michael Goetz (James Page), Roscoe Lee Browne (Archer Lincoln), Sara Botsford (Lady Sarah Billings), Jeroen Krabbé (Mark Van Meter), Vyto Ruginis (Carl), Jonathan Pryce (Jack), Tony Hendra (Hunter), Jon Lovitz (Doug) and Phil Hartman (Fred).

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