Tess (1979, Roman Polanski)

I don’t mind sitting three hours for an unhappy ending. Actually, I think most long films have unhappy endings, don’t they? However, I did not sit through the three poorly acted and written hours of Tess expecting to have to tolerate a scene with the sun rising at Stonehenge and some bullshit insight into the finiteness of nobility. Oh, good grief, the Stonehenge finale was in the book… (I’m cruising Wikipedia as I type).

Argh.

I was going to start out this post with a discussion on the long, mediocre film. Whether or not the film truly improves over time, or if through the long viewing time, the brain’s quality receptors somehow get burned out. Whether or not the taste buds go dry. Unfortunately, Tess‘s absurd third act–when the unlikable, emotionally abusive husband the audience has just spent forty-five minutes despising, becomes the hero; the somewhat amusing and somehow honorable scoundrel becomes the villain, of course, at the same time–ruins my previous analysis. The analysis only works if the film is consistently mediocre. Tess putrefies at the end. (A reasonable comparison would be Wim Wender’s Until the End of the World, which is two hours longer than Tess–five hours–and never swings high or low, just stays steadily unremarkable).

However, Tess is not a wholly unpleasant experience. The cinematography is beautiful (though one can’t help but notice it’s lifted from Barry Lyndon, which did it better too) and the scenery, for much of the film, is glorious. Polanksi couldn’t shoot in England, so he used the French countryside. While the English countryside is beautiful in its own way, there’s an inherent dreariness to it. The French countryside is simply glorious and when the story becomes dreary, the muddy skies look fake.

Nastassja Kinski is nice enough to turn in an unspeakably bad performance, so bad it’s comical, especially since the subtitle writers of the DVD I watched couldn’t understand her awful English accent and frequently got lines quite wrong. Also terrible is Peter Firth as the husband, but Leigh Lawson is good as the scoundrel. The switch in characters’ personalities is actually not as annoying–oh, it’s still bad–as when we’re expected to remember people who were in the film for four minutes and never in a close-up. There’s period where Kinski visits a friend who I thought was the mother until five or six minutes into the second scene. The film’s writing is terrible, but if the Stonehenge finale isn’t Polanki’s fault I’m not going to go blaming him for all the other tripe in the script.

What a lousy way to spend three hours… though, as Tess was nominated for Best Picture, it’s nice to know the Academy was almost as full of shit in the late 1970s as it is today.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roman Polanski; written by Polanski, Gérard Brach, and John Brownjohn, based on a novel by Thomas Hardy; cinematographers, Geoffrey Unsworth and Ghislain Cloquet; edited by Alastair McIntyre and Tom Priestley; music by Philippe Sarde; production designer, Pierre Guffroy; produced by Claude Berri; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring John Collin (John Durbeyfield), Leigh Lawson (Alec Durbeyfield), Tony Church (Parson Tringham), Nastassja Kinski (Tess) and Peter Firth (Angel Clare).


Sixteen Candles (1984, John Hughes)

I enjoy throwing odd ones up occasionally, whether they’re inexplicable (Transporter 2) or heavily based in nostalgia (any Godzilla film). Sixteen Candles is somewhat both, though renting it was the fiancée’s idea. My freshman year of college, I did one of my presentation on racism in John Hughes’ films. Sixteen Candles has some great examples–not just the Chinese exchange student frequently referred to as “the Chinaman,” and played by the obviously ethnically Japanese Gedde Watanabe–it also makes fun of the physically handicapped. Great stuff there. I also remember it being one of my favorite Hughes films. It’s hard to have a favorite Hughes film because none of them are any good, but after this viewing, I think I can safely say Sixteen Candles is my favorite. In fact, it’s the only one I’d watch again.

Immediately after this film, Hughes started infusing his films with social commentary (usually about the poor boy and the rich girl or the poor girl and the rich boy) and it was pretty bad. For the first half of Sixteen Candles, I was going to decry Hughes as the forebear of shitty Hollywood story structure. Molly Ringwald–the lead of the film–disappears for about twenty minutes, maybe more, and the film’s only ninety minutes long. In her absence, there are these great scenes with Michael Schoeffling and Anthony Michael Hall–and I realized why I liked Sixteen Candles so much. The film makes no claims at reality–it speaks directly to the viewer on a few occasions, something Hughes later milked in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off–and there’s no real dramatic tension. It’s an incredibly light comedy and taken as such, it’s a pleasant diversion.

Oddly (given National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation), Sixteen Candles fails the most in the simple family situation. Hughes doesn’t know what to do–he gives Ringwald an asshole little brother and a doped-up sister. He can’t even give Paul Dooley anything to do. Ringwald holds a lot of the film together, but it’s Schoeffling and Hall who really have the most to do. I’d never been particularly impressed by Hall–never had any idea why, for instance, Kubrick wanted him for Full Metal Jacket–but he does a good job in an impossible role. His character completely changes–in the viewer’s perception–in a six or seven minute scene. It’s good work. Schoeffling never really went anywhere. However, according to one website, endless numbers of baby boys born in the mid-1980s were named Jake after his character. He has even more impossible role of being the perfect guy and turns it into a deep performance. There’s none of that serious Hughes teen angst in this one, so the actors aren’t given anything impossible to pull off. Their only job is to make the viewer enjoy the film.

As for Hughes the director… well, Sixteen Candles has got to be his best looking film. The cinematography is incredibly lush in this one. It’s not as far removed as Technicolor, instead a welcoming, idealized reality (there’s also little damaging violence inflicted on the film’s many “geeks,” another bit of that idealization).

Sixteen Candles is not a great film. Even without the bigotry, there’s the incredible shallowness. However, it’s acceptance of that shallowness is exactly what makes it an enjoyable experience.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by John Hughes; director of photography, Bobby Byrne; edited by Edward Warschilka; music by Ira Newborn; produced by Hilton A. Green; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Molly Ringwald (Samantha Baker), Justin Henry (Mike Baker), Michael Schoeffling (Jake Ryan), Haviland Morris (Caroline Mulford), Gedde Watanabe (Long Duk Dong), Anthony Michael Hall (The Geek), Paul Dooley (Jim Baker), Carlin Glynn (Brenda Baker), Blanche Baker (Ginny Baker), Edward Andrews (Howard Baker), Billie Bird (Dorothy Baker), Carole Cook (Grandma Helen), Max Showalter (Grandpa Fred), Liane Alexandra Curtis (Randy), John Cusack (Bryce) and Darren Harris (Cliff).


Everybody Wins (1990, Karel Reisz)

What a weird movie. Debra Winger cannot act. Don’t know exactly why Terms of Endearment worked, but she cannot act. She’s really terrible in this one. Arthur Miller adapted his play, which was from 1982–except it was a one act play. Somewhere in the adaptation, Everybody Wins becomes a ludicrous attempt at a thriller. It’s set in a Connecticut town, which looks a lot like Pennsylvania in the film, and Reisz gives the setting absolutely no personality.

Winger convinces Nick Nolte to investigate a case, except she’s a total flake and doesn’t tell him anything about the case until the last fifteen minutes. So, right away, it’s unbelievable for Nolte, playing a renowned investigator, would put up with Winger. Most of their scenes involve her hiding something from him, but he sticks around… because if he left, it’d be a one act movie. Will Patton shows up for a bit and he’s fine. He and Nolte have an interesting relationship for a few scenes. Poor Jack Warden stuck in a nothing role, just to pop in whenever you’ve forgotten he’s in the movie.

It’s not really a case of the film being predictable, but once some of the clues come out, it’s unbelievable Nolte the investigator wouldn’t piece anything together. Except he pieces absolutely nothing together–in the entire film–which dismisses it as a mystery or detective film. There’s no real jeopardy involved, so it’s not a thriller either. Winger’s so terrible it’s not a romance. The film’s only interesting with Nolte and Patton and Nolte and Judith Ivey, who plays his sister (the character’s got an interesting history, but none of it, apparently, gets to come through in the film).

I’ve seen Reisz and Nolte’s other collaboration, Who’ll Stop the Rain, and I guess Everybody Wins is better. Everybody Wins is shorter and, for the first half, it’s just boring, not particularly bad. In fact, I think some of the beginning might even be good. Nolte does a good job, but it’s definitely one of his autopilot performances. Reisz has some good moments (just can’t make the setting stick until the end, when it’s too late to fix the film). There’s even homage to Who’ll Stop the Rain, which I can’t believe anyone would pick up on, but who knows, maybe there’s somebody else out there going through all of MGM’s Nick Nolte releases too.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Karel Reisz; screenplay by Arthur Miller; director of photography, Ian Blake; edited by John Bloom; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Peter Larkin; produced by Jeremy Thomas; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Debra Winger (Angela Crispini), Nick Nolte (Tom O’Toole), Will Patton (Jerry), Judith Ivey (Connie), Kathleen Wilhoite (Amy), Jack Warden (Judge Harry Murdoch), Frank Converse (Charlie Haggerty) and Frank Military (Felix).


The Jerk (1979, Carl Reiner)

“Classics.” In the sense, “oh, it’s a classic.” Possibly even, “it’s classic.” “Classic” is a lousy classification for film. It’s applied mostly as if it were a genre, with something like King Kong escaping to the sci-fi section, but A Night at the Opera absent from the comedy one.

The Jerk is considered a “classic” and I don’t quite get it. It’s occasionally funny, but mostly drags on. It’s poorly titled (according to IMDb, the working title was Easy Money, which is better), because The Jerk suggests… well, it suggests Steve Martin is playing a jerk. According to Oxford’s, a jerk is (in the informal) a contemptibly obnoxious person. The film gets the title from the colloquialism, “What do you think I am, some kind of a jerk or something?” Except, in that colloquialism jerk doesn’t mean obnoxious person, it means sap, dope, maybe patsy. I suppose they could have called any of those, but didn’t. Because The Jerk, starring Steve Martin in a bathrobe, looks like a movie you’d want to see. It looks like a funny movie.

The film’s structure is also particular. Bernadette Peters has almost no dialogue for the film’s last third or so. She’s around–both on screen and in the story–but she’s not doing anything. The film is so delineated into scenes, once she’s done, she has to stick around, but the film doesn’t have anything to do with her. The first half of the film has this deliberate pacing–lots of funny moments in amusing scenes. The scenes flow from one to the other, more on the comedic factor than any sort of dramatic one. It’s not extreme enough to be notable, but it creates a pleasant viewing experience. The second half of the film, which feels like someone checked his or her watch and got really worried about the running time, is hurried and almost all in summary or half-scene.

Steve Martin wrote the script with Carl Gottlieb, who’s the only guy to work on all of the first three Jaws films. I imagine the tight structure of the first half is from his hand, but it’s hard to blame the second act on either writer. Once director Carl Reiner shows up in a cameo, it’s apparent the film’s lost its footing. Most of Reiner’s filmography is Steve Martin films, so I guess they liked each other, but Reiner’s not bringing anything particular to the film. I just finished watching it an hour ago and nothing’s resonating. It’s all seeped away, except maybe the subtly touching relationship between Martin and his adopted brother, played by Dick Anthony Williams.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Reiner; screenplay by Steve Martin, Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias, based on a story by Martin and Gottlieb; director of photography, Victor J. Kemper; edited by Bud Molin; music by Jack Elliot; production designer, Jack T. Collis; produced by William E. McEuen and David V. Picker; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Steve Martin (Navin R. Johnson), Bernadette Peters (Marie Kimble Johnson), Catlin Adams (Patty Bernstein), Mabel King (Mother), Richard Ward (Father), Dick Anthony Williams (Taj Jonson), Bill Macy (Stan Fox), M. Emmet Walsh (Madman) and Dick O’Neill (Frosty).


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