Category Archives: Directed by Ron Howard

The Paper (1994, Ron Howard)

For a painfully brief period in the 1990s, Ron Howard was one of the best filmmakers working. It didn’t last. The Paper kicked off his run. Howard and the Koepp brothers (I can’t remember for sure, but I think Stephen worked at a newspaper) imbue the film with the traditional Hollywood newspaper movie idealism, but also enough modern cynicism to make the film fit for human consumption. Actually, the traditional Hollywood newspaper has always had the commercialism conflict, in The Paper personified by Michael Keaton and Glenn Close’s printing press fistfight, but along with the rest, it all somehow seems fresh. The rest is Robert Duvall’s aged newspaperman paying the various prices for his life, Marisa Tomei worrying about having her imminent baby with workaholic Keaton, Randy Quaid as a griping, indifferent columnist, and, of course, Jack Kehoe’s search for a comfortable chair. Howard’s special touch was bringing a heartening sense to his films without ever pandering. He could make a movie where a doorman could worry about a tenant in a medical crisis without it coming across as mawkish.

But there’s the technical aspect one shouldn’t ignore. The Paper takes place over a day, twenty-four hours, and while there are occasional visual errors, Howard and cinematographer John Seale do a beautiful job creating that day with wonderful skies. When Tomei is on the street, talking to Keaton on her cellphone, you can feel the warm New York evening. The editing is also very nice–and the Randy Newman score (there is, of course, a Randy Newman song over the end credits too), but the score sets the perfect tone for the film. It’s that extinct drama… the adult comedy.

All of the Koepp brothers’ dialogue is great, so much so, it’s strange David never came back to dialogue-heavy movies. Their characters–and here’s an odd compliment–are just sparse enough the actors can bring defining features to them, since the story doesn’t have any room for them (as written) except as figures moving throughout the story. The newspaper story, the one Keaton can’t get wrong, unfolds wonderfully. The plotting being good, I can figure that one from Koepp, but the dialogue just seems odd coming from him.

The acting is all fantastic. It’s one of Keaton’s best performances, it’s probably Tomei’s best. Randy Quaid’s good in the smallest of the principal roles, but he does get a great payoff at the end. Duvall’s great. Glenn Close probably has the most complicated role and she’s the only one with a eureka moment and she pulls it off. The supporting cast, with Kehoe maybe being the most memorable, is also fantastic. Roma Maffia and Lynne Thigpen being the other two standouts, but they’re all great.

The Paper is largely, I’m guessing because of the cast, forgotten. There’s a lousy pan and scan DVD in the United States and Howard’s shown no interest in the last ten years in forcing an acceptable release. It’s got a place in film history–one of the forgotten films of the 1990s (it won no major Oscars and did not make over a $150 million), an ever growing category and maybe the most depressing–but it really ought to be known for its excellence, not as an entry on a list or as a footnote. It’s a wonderful film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; written by David Koepp and Stephen Koepp; director of photography, John Seale; edited by Daniel Hanley and Michael Hill; music by Randy Newman; production designer, Todd Hallowell; produced by Brian Grazer and Frederick Zollo; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Keaton (Henry Hackett), Robert Duvall (Bernie White), Glenn Close (Alicia Clark), Marisa Tomei (Martha Hackett), Randy Quaid (Michael McDougal), Jason Robards (Graham Keighley), Jason Alexander (Marion Sandusky), Spalding Gray (Paul Bladden), Catherine O’Hara (Susan), Lynne Thigpen (Janet), Jack Kehoe (Phil), Roma Maffia (Carmen), Clint Howard (Ray Blaisch), Geoffrey Owens (Lou) and Amelia Campbell (Robin).


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Ransom (1996, Ron Howard), the extended version

Ransom is not Richard Price’s only “big Hollywood” movie (and it’s probably not his most anomalous one either), but there’s something very particular about the film. You’re watching a mix of various 1990s genres–a Mel Gibson movie, a Richard Price cop movie, and a Ron Howard movie. Except not the current Oscar-bait Ron Howard, the incredibly sturdy and wonderful Ron Howard of that brief period in the 1990s. I’ve seen the original Ransom! and while it is different, most of what the remake adds is the Price-written Gary Sinise material. And it’s a Richard Price cop thing being used for the most Hollywood, blockbuster aspect of the film too, which might be why Ransom is so weird. You’d expect Price to contribute something a little off kilter, but instead, he’s building up toward the rousing finale.

I haven’t seen Ransom in years, mostly because I kept waiting for the as yet still missing DVD release of the extended edition. The longer version adds a lot for Delroy Lindo and, I think, Rene Russo to do. Because the majority of Ransom, the first hour and forty-five minutes of the two-twenty extended version is all Mel Gibson. It’s at least half character study and Gibson does a fantastic job. Mel the actor is always forgotten or ignored (today probably forgotten), but once he hit his 1990s stride (and it’s a spotty stride, but it’s a definite stride), he was giving excellent performances. Just some of his scenes in here, they’re fantastic. I sat and realized Mel Gibson of this era could do anything, he has some perfect scenes. You also get Gibson in contrast to Gary Sinise, who was still somewhat indie at this stage (appreciated only in TV movies) and Mel runs circles around him. Delroy Lindo’s great–the extended version adding significant layers of complexity to his character–and Rene Russo is good too. For about half the movie, she doesn’t have anything to do and then all of a sudden, she has to do everything for a ten minute stretch and she carries it. She and Gibson have a perfect chemistry too.

As for Ron Howard… the Ron Howard who made Ransom was about the most exciting filmmaker in Hollywood. I have no idea what happened (I can guess–pet project Edtv bombed–bombing pet projects often deter great careers, but Howard’s probably will never recover, which is a tragedy). He maintains a sense of coldness, of space-heater heating–he creates a physical temperature with Ransom (his cinematographer helps, of course)–and the attention he gives Mel Gibson, and just the way the film moves from character to character, kidnapper to parents, parents to cops, everything just moves perfectly. It never gets lost, which is amazing.

I always forget the 1990s really did have a bunch of great people making a bunch of really good movies. I mistrust my memory of it, but then I go back and look and I see these films again and think about the people making them and what they were making and something very definite happened and capital-f film suffered. I was about to blame it on Lucas and Episode I (with no basis other than he closed a loop of quality opened in 1977) then I was going to blame it on James Cameron and Titanic (Blockbuster-maker wins Oscar, inspires others to get insipid), but I’d rather close off with something more on Ransom. The last shot. It’s short and it’s over the end credits and it’s a time lapse of a screen corner and it doesn’t belong. Beautiful James Horner music (before he too became a joke) and just this confusing shot, which you get only after it’s moments from being totally black, and there’s something striking about beautiful about how Howard closes the story off for the viewer. It’s quick and graceful, but it’s a ‘thank you’ for watching my film. Other films having such ‘thank yous,’ but it’s inappropriate in Ransom and it’s nice for just that reason.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; written by Richard Price and Alexander Ignon, based on a story by Cyril Hume and Richard Maibaum; director of photography, Piotr Sobocinski; edited by Dan Hanley and Mike Hill; music by James Horner; production designer, Michael Corenblith; produced by Scott Rudin, Brian Grazer and B. Kipling Hagopian; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Mel Gibson (Tom Mullen), Rene Russo (Kate Mullen), Brawley Nolte (Sean Mullen), Gary Sinise (Jimmy Shaker), Delroy Lindo (Agent Lonnie Hawkins), Lili Taylor (Maris Connor), Liev Schreiber (Clark Barnes), Donnie Wahlberg (Cubby Barnes) and Evan Handler (Miles Roberts).


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