Tag Archives: Daniel Stern

C.H.U.D. (1984, Douglas Cheek)

The only name I recognized during C.H.U.D.’s opening titles—after the more obvious names in the cast—was casting director Bonnie Timmermann. Timmermann’s an A tier casting director; C.H.U.D. is a B movie with a lower A movie cast (I mean, John Heard and Daniel Stern are both capable of fine work and they would’ve been at near career highs at the time of this one). But it doesn’t seem to know it’s got a better cast than the material, which isn’t a surprise as the script is bad and the directing is bad. Also bad is the cinematography, by Peter Stein, though it’s not like director Cheek would’ve known what to do with better photography. C.H.U.D. manages to be shot on location in New York City, but look like it was shot in Toronto with some second unit establishing work done in New York. And then the sewer stuff is obviously sets and lots of them, but quantity over quality.

So it’s mostly director Cheek’s fault. Sure, Parnell Hall’s script has terrible dialogue, silly characters, contradictory exposition, and an absence of suspense but it still contains those elements. Better direction could’ve at least fixed the lack of suspense and made the silly characters amusing. But Cheek really doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing at all. He sabotages his actors, usually with these terrible two shots, which doesn’t help de facto lead Christopher Curry (as a police captain whose wife has gone missing in the rash of recent disappearances). Curry’s… not great and seems out of his depth in a lead role, but at least he’s not hamming it up like Daniel Stern or sleepwalking like John Heard.

Heard’s a fashion photographer who wants to do important work, like photographing people experiencing homelessness but not for journalism’s sake, rather… his own self-aggrandizement? It’s confused and an example of the contradictory exposition. Though it seems like Heard’s decisions are mostly for girlfriend (or wife, it’s unclear) Kim Greist, who’s a callous fashion model and wants him to be famous for the serious photography while still doing all her photo shoots too. The film opens with Heard (who’s top-billed). He’s there to establish the people living underground in the old tunnels—so, C.H.U.D.’s extravagant underground tunnels and giant spaces don’t seem to have anything to do with the sewer or the subway. The film doesn’t acknowledge there are working tunnels under the city. It’s very weird. And inevitable. I spent at least ten minutes waiting for the big underground reveal scene as Curry and Stern—more on them in a moment—either find the legion of scientists doing secret work or at least a good shot of the subterranean mutants’ lair. But no. Same sets as before.

Heard doesn’t do much in the second act; he comes back for the third, but second is Stern and Curry. Less Heard (and Greist, who gives an exceptionally flat performance) isn’t a bad thing. Though Stern and Curry aren’t a good thing.

So Stern is a street preacher who runs a soup kitchen. He and Curry have history; Curry busted him for something five years before, which he drops as exposition. Curry’s too busy memorizing old cases to react to his wife being missing and presumed… eaten. Pretty soon Stern is able to convince Curry there’s something going on and so then they try to fight city hall only for city hall (a regretful looking Eddie Jones, who seems to understand the state of the production better than any other cast member) to tell him absurdly corrupt government official George Martin is in charge. Martin becomes the film’s heavy, which is… not why you want to watch a movie about underground mutants attacking the surface world.

The underground mutants don’t actually look bad either. They’re budget constrained but they might be effective if Cheek could direct. Some of it is definitely Stein’s photography. It’s like he’s trying to showcase the rubber in the costume instead of obscure it.

Lots of familiar faces in the supporting cast—including John Goodman at one point—but most of them are bad. Sam McMurray’s a beat cop who doesn’t care about the people dying, especially if they’re living on the street (or under it). He’s bad. Graham Beckel’s in it for a scene or two. He’s not good, but he’s not bad. Cordis Heard (sister of John) is really bad in a small part as one of Curry’s cops, but it’s obviously Cheek’s direction. C.H.U.D. would be instructional if only any of Cheek’s directorial decisions made sense because then future generations would know what not to do except they’re so weird and obviously not working, they seem hard to classify.

Ruth Maleczech and Bill Raymond are a pair of older siblings living underground who Heard knows; they’re both way too good for the movie, like they thought they were guest-starring on a good TV show or something. J.C. Quinn plays a freelance reporter trying to crack the story, which mostly consists of bad expository scenes with John Heard. He’s not good. But seems like he should be. Then isn’t.

Outside how Timmermann conned a set of solid, working actors into appearing in what should be a low budget exploitation film but isn’t, there’s nothing to C.H.U.D.. A C.H.U.D. is a dud pun doesn’t even work because there’s nothing to suggest it ever could work.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Douglas Cheek; screenplay by Parnell Hall, based on a story by Shepard Abbott; director of photography, Peter Stein; edited by Claire Simpson; music by David A. Hughes; production designer, William Bilowit; costume designer, Jennifer Lax; produced by Andrew Bonime; released by New World Pictures.

Starring John Heard (George Cooper), Daniel Stern (A.J. Shepherd), Christopher Curry (Captain Bosch), Kim Greist (Lauren Daniels), George Martin (Wilson), J.C. Quinn (Murphy), Ruth Maleczech (Mrs. Monroe), Bill Raymond (Victor), Graham Beckel (Val), Cordis Heard (Officer Sanderson), Sam McMurray (Officer Crespi), and Eddie Jones (Chief O’Brien).


Born in East L.A. (1987, Cheech Marin)

Born in East L.A. is a much lighter comedy than expected. Maybe not more than writer-director-star Cheech Marin portends—and a lot of the film’s ineffectiveness isn’t first time feature director Marin’s fault, he needed one of his four editors to have some clue about creating narrative continuity. And while his cinematographer—Álex Phillips Jr.—isn’t at all incompetent, one does wish he’d have given Marin some pointers about how to frame establishing shots. There are a number of times in the film where it seems like Marin’s setting up a sight gag but… no. He really just doesn’t seem to realize he doesn’t have to shoot in medium shot so much.

Marin’s an L.A. mechanic who goes to pick up a visiting cousin (Paul Rodriguez, in a role cut down what probably ought to be an uncredited mega-cameo) and gets scooped up in an immigration raid. So while Marin’s getting deported, Rodriguez is trying to figure out his way in L.A. He’s staying with Marin and family, but family is out of town, which gets to be a problem since Marin needs someone to come down to the border with his ID so he can return home. The casual, nonspecific, almost benign racism from the border guards—including Jan-Michael Vincent is the boss in one scene, which should probably be uncredited too, even if it wasn’t cut down. Just having creative opening titles would probably help the film a bit.

Anyway, the racism. It doesn’t just date East L.A. it makes the film a very peculiar cultural document. At least in the first fifteen or twenty minutes, because once Marin realizes he can’t sneak across the border, he sets about making some money to buy his way back across.

One of the major plot holes, which may or may not be a result of the cuts, is whether or not his family ever misses him; they’re only supposed to be gone for a week. There’s some stuff with Rodriguez alone at the house and it’s all pretty funny, but doesn’t go anywhere. For a while, Rodriguez is giving the film’s best performance too. Because Marin starts the movie wanting the audience to think he’s a bit of a goon. The opening titles, while they aren’t giving away all the eventual cameos, is all about Marin following a woman (Neith Hunter) around L.A. landmarks and catcalling her. Only, because Marin’s not really good at the shots—if they’re not second unit—it’s never clear she hears his catcalling, which just makes him an ineffective stalker? He’s definitely supposed to be harmless, but it’s not clear how lovable he’s supposed to be for quite a bit longer into the film. When he tells someone about his history in the U.S. Army.

Marin hides he’s got backstory for about sixty of the film’s eighty-five minutes. Odd, odd, odd choice.

Though I suppose when you consider him being a vet who can’t get back into his country… but, wait, 1980s, all the border guards were swell fellows.

Marin’s got some really good gags, some really good jokes, a handful of excellent ideas; he’s able to execute about thirty percent of them satisfactorily. The plot’s pretty traditional, down to greasy scuzball Daniel Stern—but not dangerous greasy scuzball—being Marin’s “boss” and sidekick in Mexico (Stern’s in forced expatriation) and Kamala Lopez as a love interest (though, as she’s eighteen years younger than Marin, he comes off like an uncle, chemistry-wise). They could’ve had someone pretty easily doctor the script. Just saying.

Instead, the film’s a hodgepodge of funny moments and performances—Lopez is more likable than good, while Stern is funnier than good. Producer Peter Macgregor-Scott really should’ve gotten Marin a better crew.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Cheech Marin; director of photography, Álex Phillips Jr.; edited by Don Brochu, Stephen Lovejoy, David Newhouse, and Mike Sheridan; music by Lee Holdridge; production designer, Lynda Burbank; produced by Peter Macgregor-Scott; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Cheech Marin (Rudy), Daniel Stern (Jimmy), Kamala Lopez (Dolores), Paul Rodriguez (Javier), Jan-Michael Vincent (McCalister), Lupe Ontiveros (Rudy’s Mother), and Tony Plana (Feo).


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Diner (1982, Barry Levinson)

I’ve probably seen Diner ten times but I still don’t know where to start with it. Barry Levinson sets the present action between Christmas and New Year’s, so one probably could sit down and chart out what happens on each day. There’s a big basketball bet driving some of the narrative, but mostly just for Mickey Rourke and Ellen Barkin, but also for Kevin Bacon.

And Levinson leaves so much of it unresolved–Bacon, for example–while concentrating (for the finish) on the things he didn’t pay much attention to throughout the film. The film often has this great fifties soundtrack going, which masks its quietness. Even though Levinson writes these amazing dialogue exchanges, the most telling moments for the cast–even at the beginning (Levinson and Stu Linder cut together these amazing sequences from the very start, Peter Sova’s photography helping out a lot, of course)–isn’t what they’re saying. It’s the moments where the characters are silent and thinking.

All of the acting is outstanding. Rourke and Barkin are the best, then Steve Guttenberg and Kevin Bacon… then Tim Daly and Daniel Stern. Not because Daly and Stern are bad, but because Stern has the least to do. Daly has a little more, but Levinson sort of dulls the focus off him as the film progresses. The choices Levinson makes regarding what characters get attention and when are more of his brilliant ones in Diner.

It’s an exceptional motion picture. One appreciates its sublimeness more on each viewing.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Barry Levinson; director of photography, Peter Sova; edited by Stu Linder; music by Bruce Brody and Ivan Král; produced by Jerry Weintraub; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Steve Guttenberg (Edward ‘Eddie’ Simmons), Daniel Stern (Laurence ‘Shrevie’ Schreiber), Mickey Rourke (Robert ‘Boogie’ Sheftell), Kevin Bacon (Timothy Fenwick, Jr.), Tim Daly (William ‘Billy’ Howard), Ellen Barkin (Beth Schreiber), Paul Reiser (Modell), Kathryn Dowling (Barbara), Michael Tucker (Bagel), Jessica James (Mrs. Simmons), Colette Blonigan (Carol Heathrow), Kelle Kipp (Diane), John Aquino (Tank), Claudia Cron (Jane Chisholm),Tom Tammi (Howard Fenwick) and Sharon Ziman (Elyse).


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Breaking Away (1979, Peter Yates)

For a “traditional” underdog story, Breaking Away is exceeding complex. It opens with Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley; neither Steve Tesich’s script nor Yates’s direction emphasizes any over another. Actually, Quaid’s loudmouth gets the most emphasis.

Then the film introduces Barbara Barrie and Paul Dooley as Christopher’s parents and it becomes clear Away will be focused around him. Besides Christopher, only Haley gets any time away from the group (though the group occasionally appears independent of Christopher). I haven’t gotten to how Tesich introduces both major challenges in the film well into its second act.

Meanwhile, there’s Yates’s direction, which is focused on the friendship but also the quietness of the town they live in. Cynthia Scheider’s editing and the sound design are major stars in the picture, especially once the bicycle racing gets more important.

But wait, I forgot to mention Dooley and Barrie have a story independent of Christopher. They orbit him and his friends’s arc, occasionally popping in, but Away is more like seven stories in one. Yates and Tesich show glimpses of the secondary ones; if they’d given them all emphasis, it’d probably run seven hours.

All the acting is outstanding, though Stern has the least to do of the primaries. Quaid and Haley have the hardest jobs; Haley’s the better of the two, but both excel. Christopher’s fantastic.

Dooley and Barrie are wonderful.

Hart Bochner’s good. Robyn Douglass’s amazing in a subtly intricate role.

It’s an outstanding film all around.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Peter Yates; written by Steve Tesich; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Cynthia Scheider; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dennis Christopher (Dave Stoller), Dennis Quaid (Mike), Daniel Stern (Cyril), Jackie Earle Haley (Moocher), Barbara Barrie (Evelyn Stoller), Paul Dooley (Ray Stoller), Robyn Douglass (Katherine), Hart Bochner (Rod), Amy Wright (Nancy) and John Ashton (Mike’s Brother).


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