Tag Archives: David Morse

Personal Foul (1987, Ted Lichtenfeld)

My initial impulse as I sat through the droning minutes of Personal Foul was to give the film a pass. Not give it any stars, but a pass. Also, when I say droning, I mean droning. The film’s music is a set of three or four songs by folk singer Greg Brown (and friends) on repeat. One of them even has a better title in the chorus than Personal Foul. I can’t remember; I was worried if I committed the songs to memory they might never leave.

There’s a lot of use of the songs. Lots of montages. Sometimes the songs are just over leads Adam Arkin and David Morse living their lives, Arkin a dissatisfied school teacher, Morse a very unromantic drifter (he lives out of his truck), and sometimes it’s over the drama as a woman (Susan Wheeler Duff) comes between Arkin and Morse’s burgeoning friendship. And sometimes it’s just over them playing basketball. Because Personal Foul, for the first half anyway, is all about how a bond basketball makes no man can tear asunder.

Duff is one of Arkin’s coworkers; a lot of the film takes place in the school, just because it gives the film something to do. Director Lichtenheld loves the basketball and the montages, but does seem to know he occasionally needs to have scenes. They don’t really have any momentum—the biggest plot thread in the first half no lives school administrator F. William Parker, who Arkin bullies and encourages others to bully, but it’s actually got zilch to do with the eventual story.

Lichtenheld shows a lot about Morse’s current life, making paper flowers to sell on the street, which leads to Arkin bringing him into school to teach an art class and Morse realizing he’s got the potential for real human connection and whatnot (while also introducing Duff to Morse). But we never even know if Arkin realizes Morse is living in a truck in front of his house. Men, even men who play basketball together, do not speak of such things. Though Personal Foul could be a lot more insensitive… well, then it gets more insensitive and it turns out it will be more insensitive. Just maybe not in exactly the ways Lichtenheld forecast he was going to do it.

The third act involves Duff revealing she has some machinations going on as far as the love triangle, which is barely implied in the story—director Lichtenheld doesn’t seem to have an understanding of actor chemistry, especially not since Duff and Morse were (and still are as of this writing) married and have oodles of it while Arkin and Duff have an inverse chemistry thing going.

The machinations are extremely cringe and Lichtenheld doesn’t seem to understand them. He’s taking a story with a terrible female characterization if it were summer vacation crushes and thoughtlessly scaling it up to thirty-somethings. Some of Personal Foul can get a pass. The third act with Duff cannot.

Arkin ransoming information about “friend” Morse cannot.

There’s also some weird thing going on with Duff being from Texas. It makes very little sense, other than to imply she’s just a good country woman looking for a husband or something.

At its “best,” Foul provides some interesting acting opportunities for Morse and Arkin. Not interesting roles or overall performances, but the occasional moment in a scene, you can see the actors working.

Is it enough of a reason to watch Personal Foul? Heavens no.

Though if you’re directing a movie with any basketball in it whatsoever, Personal Foul might be a must watch for things to never ever do when shooting a basketball game.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written, produced, and directed by Ted Lichtenfeld; director of photography, John LeBlanc; edited by Steve Mullenix; music by Greg Brown; costume designer, Elizabeth Palmer.

Starring David Morse (Ben), Adam Arkin (Jeremy), Susan Wheeler Duff (Lisa), and F. William Parker (Lester).


Drive Angry (2011, Patrick Lussier)

Drive Angry is T2 with a supernatural bent. It’s like Lussier wanted to make a 3D Terminator movie, couldn’t, and came found a way to make it possible to do most of the action scenes of one. Actually, Drive Angry isn’t just some supernatural movie. It’s all about Nicolas Cage breaking out of Hell (which is just a prison—Satan isn’t that bad of a guy and the lack of a cameo is one of the film’s big problems)—to stop a Satanist cult from sacrificing his granddaughter.

Along the way he runs into old friends and makes new ones. William Fichtner is the emissary from Hell sent to bring him back. So it’s a chase and be chased movie.

Cage is not very good, which is probably a combination of bad writing (his character’s boring) and bad direction from Lussier. Lussier can compose an inoffensive shot, but he’s terrible with actors.

And it seems like he knows it, so he casts great actors whenever he can. Fichtner alone is probably worth seeing the film for. He’s got this playful performance (his writing is pretty good) and it’s just amazing.

Then there’s David Morse, who only has one big scene and he nails it in that fantastic David Morse way. As the bad guy, Billy Burke is surprisingly good. He swaggers around like a demented Elvis.

Unfortunately, leading lady Amber Heard is unspeakably horrific. She’s nightmarish.

Drive Angry’s about twenty minutes too long, but Fichtner frequently makes up for it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Patrick Lussier; written by Todd Farmer and Lussier; director of photography, Brian Pearson; edited by Devin C. Lussier and Lussier; music by Michael Wandmacher; production designer, Nathan Amondson; produced by Michael De Luca; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Milton), Amber Heard (Piper), William Fichtner (The Accountant), Billy Burke (Jonah King), David Morse (Webster), Todd Farmer (Frank), Christa Campbell (Mona), Charlotte Ross (Candy), Tom Atkins (Cap), Jack McGee (Fat Lou), Katy Mixon (Norma Jean) and Pruitt Taylor Vince (Roy).


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The Hurt Locker (2008, Kathryn Bigelow)

When The Hurt Locker gets predictable, it gets into trouble. Of the super predictable events, there was only one thing I didn’t get right. The Hurt Locker, which uses its recognizable faces in bit parts better than any film in a while (I don’t know the last time Ralph Fiennes was so good–he ought to do a spin-off), eventually falls victim to its traditional, melodramatic narrative.

It’s too bad, because as it plays out in vignettes, The Hurt Locker is incredibly impressive. Maybe it hiccups too when Brian Geraghty’s character, who’s something of discreet protagonist (he gets his own scenes while Anthony Mackie does not), exits. While Jeremy Renner turns in a fantastic performance in the lead, it’s a flashy, movie star performance.

The film succeeds because of Renner, Mackie and Geraghty and their relationship with one another. Except when it draws attention to those relationships developing, then it runs into a lot of problems–Bigelow and writer Mark Boal don’t set up the film to allow for big melodramatic expositional reveals so when the film concludes on them… well, it feels icky.

There might not be a good way to end the film though, since it is such a haphazard collection of events–much of the film revolves around the bomb squad unit’s missions and once it doesn’t, well, it’s a signal flare of the end of the second act and the beginning of the third and it’s all downhill from there.

It’s still an impressive work.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow; written by Mark Boal; director of photography, Barry Ackroyd; edited by Bob Murawski and Chris Innis; music by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders; production designer, Karl Juliusson; produced by Bigelow, Boal, Nicolas Chartier and Greg Shapiro; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Jeremy Renner (Staff Sgt. William James), Anthony Mackie (Sgt. J.T. Sanborn), Brian Geraghty (Specialist Owen Eldridge), Ralph Fiennes (Contractor Team Leader), David Morse (Colonel Reed) and Guy Pearce (Sgt. Matt Thompson).


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The Crossing Guard (1995, Sean Penn)

I can’t decide what moment of The Crossing Guard is my favorite. I have it narrowed down to two. It’s either the (louder) one at the end, where Jack Nicholson realizes where he is and how he got there, or it’s when I realized Anjelica Huston–who starts the film in a support group–has never spoken in her support group. She just goes and sits and wants to speak and never does. The Crossing Guard opens, after that scene with Huston and the juxtaposed Nicholson scene (Huston goes to support groups, Nicholson hangs out at a strip club), with this beautiful, victorious Jack Nitzsche music. It sounds like it’s a sports movie about a guy who never thought he’d play again, but then did. Nitzsche repeats this piece of music throughout the film and, each time it plays, it gets a little less victorious, a little less triumphant, until the end, when it’s about defeat.

The Crossing Guard is about compassion and submission. Penn doesn’t exactly hide these themes, but there isn’t a single scene where he lets the film get aware of itself enough to think about its themes. The Crossing Guard features a scene where Nicholson wakes up from a nightmare and calls ex-wife Huston on the phone to tell her the dream and it’s one of the best scenes in the film. This scene shouldn’t work, because relating a dream… it shouldn’t work. Penn breaks a couple major narrative rules in The Crossing Guard to great success. There isn’t a false moment in the film and only one where he holds a shot too long (but it’s featuring Robin Wright Penn and he basically casts her as an angel in the film, so he gets some leeway).

The most difficult task for the film’s viewer is connecting with the characters. It isn’t hard to connect with David Morse, whose puppy-dog eyes (which Wright Penn even comments on) and sweet, quiet demeanor visually collide with his hulking figure. His remorse and guilt are palpable. The scene where he tries to explain himself to parents Richard Bradford and Piper Laurie (who are both wonderful and share a fantastic small scene near the beginning) is devastating. It’s a hard moment in the film, where it becomes easier to objectify the film itself–Penn keeps the trailer where Nicholson threatened Morse’s life visible through the window behind Morse–than to listen to what Morse is saying. There isn’t a single explanation in The Crossing Guard. Penn demands his viewer interpret each moment and, if he or she doesn’t get it right, there’s no make-up exam… the film just moves forward.

Nicholson, for instance, is playing a tragic golem. He moves through his life fueled by alcohol, cigarettes and hatred. There are occasional peeks into the person he was before, but it’s all implied. The scenes with ex-wife Huston don’t even offer the most insight, instead it’s how the strippers flock to Nicholson. In this beautiful performance, which gives Nicholson two amazing–once in a career for most people–scenes, the most impressive thing he does is show an exceptional capacity for love. He never shows love for the strippers–Kari Wuhrer and Priscilla Barnes–but they sense it. Barnes has a great scene where she’s yelling at him, but it’s clear even when she’s angry with him. The scene where it’s clear Nicholson’s loved by the junkies, the masochists, the hookers and those who have squandered everything is another candidate for best moment in the film.

And when Nicholson’s humanity returns to him, when the automated processes start to slow, when the clay starts to crack–when it becomes clear just what Nicholson and Morse are both looking for… The Crossing Guard overwhelms.

And Penn isn’t even finished yet.

Penn’s direction–it’s very quiet at times, lots of discreet camera movement–Vilmos Zsigmond does a beautiful job–is sublime. It’s assured and measured. Just like the script’s implications, Penn’s visual moves are perfect. He even plays with the viewer’s perception of movie star Jack Nicholson as such as lackluster person. I kept wondering, as I watched it, if it was going to get better (which, given how great it is from the start, seems impossible). It does.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by Sean Penn; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Jay Cassidy; music by Jack Nitzsche; production designer, Michael D. Haller; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Jack Nicholson (Freddy Gale), David Morse (John Booth), Anjelica Huston (Mary), Robin Wright (Jojo), Piper Laurie (Helen Booth), Richard Bradford (Stuart Booth), Priscilla Barnes (Verna), David Baerwald (Peter), Robbie Robertson (Roger), John Savage (Bobby) and Kari Wuhrer (Mia).


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