Tag Archives: Touchstone Pictures

The Last Shot (2004, Jeff Nathanson)

The Last Shot is a comedy–and a funny one–but I’m not sure it qualifies as a story. It’s an idea for a movie–the FBI fakes producing a movie to catch mobsters, hiring Hollywood wannabes without telling them–but Nathanson’s execution of the idea is flawed. Alec Baldwin’s FBI agent is lying to would-be director Matthew Broderick for the entire movie and Nathanson expects the audience to think it’s funny. He mistreats his characters, not because they deserve it (though he does give Broderick an unimportant deception late in the film–Baldwin’s clear except the whole faking a movie production), but because he can move the story and get laughs out of it. The beginning, thanks to Baldwin’s excellent performance, suggests the film’s going to be a lot better than it turns out, but once Calista Flockhart shows up screaming obscenities (look everyone, Ally McBeal swearing), it’s pretty obvious Nathanson’s really cheap.

But it’s still a Hollywood comedy–that inane (but watchable) genre, which has produced maybe one good film in the last twenty years–and Nathanson is funny. He gets Joan Cusack to be funny, not hard, but she’s real funny. He’s got Robert Evans offering wacky cut-in commentary on the story. Every time Evans breaks in, it cuts a scene (Evans is wearing some great clothes, but I assume they’re just his) awkwardly and it becomes clear Nathanson doesn’t have any regard for his own movie either, at least not in terms of it being a worthwhile narrative. As a series of jokes and tricks, he seems to respect it.

Tony Shalhoub is also good, but lots of the supporting cast misfires. Tim Blake Nelson is never believable as Broderick’s brother and Buck Henry’s small part would have been much more interesting if someone besides Buck Henry had been playing it. Broderick’s no good, but the character’s supposed to be lame (see, he has friends who play the guitar and sing songs about him, we’re supposed to laugh at him… the only way Nathanson could have done anything halfway honest with this film was to give it a Beaver Trilogy viewer self-awareness moment, but those aren’t funny, so no way Nathanson’s doing it). Toni Collette’s funny here too, real good even, in terms of acting, even though her character’s moronic. I think it was when Collette showed up, I really started feeling bad for The Last Shot. The cast list sounds good, but watching it… it’s embarrassingly pointless.

Nathanson’s got some other funny things–except he can’t seem to keep it set in 1985, not when he drops Sundance references and the like–but he ends it on a sentimental tone and the movie certainly never earned it. The music by Rolfe Kent’s a constant annoyance and, otherwise, the film’s technically uninteresting. But Baldwin’s real good and it’s so funny at times, it’s practically acceptable. Though, given Nathanson’s history as a blockbuster ghostwriter, one might think he’d know it doesn’t make any sense to have Baldwin be movie crazy in the third act without establishing it in the first. Rifle on the wall and all.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jeff Nathanson; screenplay by Nathanson, based on a magazine article by Steve Fishman; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by David Rosenbloom; music by Rolfe Kent; production designer, William Arnold; produced by Larry Brezner and David Hoberman; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Alec Baldwin (Joe Devine), Matthew Broderick (Steven Schats), Toni Collette (Emily French), Tony Shalhoub (Tommy Sanz), Calista Flockhart (Valerie Weston), Tim Blake Nelson (Marshal Paris), Buck Henry (Lonnie Bosco) and Ray Liotta (Jack Devine).


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Ruthless People (1986, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker)

Clocking in at a whopping ninety minutes, Ruthless People feels a tad undercooked. Lots of trailer-ready sequences, lots of memorable moments, nothing to really connect them. The ZAZ directing team (it’s probably been sixteen years since I’ve thought about them) is adequate, but they don’t really direct actors very well here, so the casting goes a long way (Bill Pullman suffers the most, having the easiest character to play and most of his scenes fall flat).

Danny DeVito is great–turning in a performance so good I thought about renting Twins–but he’s not really getting any help from the directors and the script just plays him as a jerk, so DeVito isn’t really doing anything very difficult. Weight loss figures greatly in to the story–it saves kidnappers Helen Slater and Judge Reinhold from doing jail time–as Bette Midler loses twenty pounds in four days and has the Stockholm syndrome going in full effect.

The movie’s mostly missed opportunities–not counting the cartoon relationship between DeVito and Midler, which is mostly implied–particularly Reinhold and Slater’s touching love story… also implied. They’re the down-on-their-luck young couple who made a big mistake and haven’t been able to recover. There’s a lot of possibility (especially with a Michel Colombier score), but it doesn’t go anywhere.

Thanks to all the problems–the directors and the writer (I have no idea if the abbreviated storytelling is the script or the direction, but it’s unfair to put it all on the directors)–the most amusing parts of Ruthless People are the two cops, played by Art Evans and Clarence Felder, who are enduring all the defects along with the audience. A mix approach–the kidnappers, the cops, the husband–required traditional storytelling in Ruthless People….

Instead, the directors just made an unfilling mess.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker; written by Dale Launer, based on a story by O. Henry; director of photography, Jan de Bont; edited by Gib Jaffe and Arthur Schmidt; music by Michel Colombier; produced by Michael Peyser; released by Touchstone Films.

Starring Danny DeVito (Sam Stone), Bette Midler (Barbara Stone), Judge Reinhold (Ken Kessler), Helen Slater (Sandy Kessler), Anita Morris (Carol Dodsworth), Bill Pullman (Earl Mott), William G. Schilling (Chief Henry Benton), Art Evans (Lt. Bender), Clarence Felder (Lt. Walters), J.E. Freeman (Bedroom Killer) and Gary Riley (Heavy Metal Kid).


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Stakeout (1987, John Badham)

I think home video–tape and disc–has done a great disservice to John Badham and his legacy… as in, with this digital (or analog) evidence, one has easy access. Instead of coming across Stakeout at 11:30 P.M. on a Thursday night, pan and scanned, cut for content, and full of commercials, I can sit and watch it on DVD (finally widescreen) and observe just how much better a lot of it works in the late night context.

Stakeout is a cop sitcom, with occasional moments of violence, which I imagine one can thank Badham for including. I mean, it gets so violent at times, particularly at the end, it’s jarring. Stakeout establishes itself, early on, as two things–first, an opportunity to watch a hungry Aidan Quinn tear up the screen (did I really just type, “tear up the screen?” I mean, he does–it’s a really physical performance, he’s jumping all over the place for attention–but it’s still a lame line)–and second, as a harmless comedy. The cops joke around all the time (there was apparently very little violent crime in Seattle in the late 1980s) and most of their attention is spent on summer camp pranks.

Stakeout works for two primary reasons–the script and the cast. The script’s got some really endearing, funny scenes and it’s paced in such a way… well, if one were watching it late night and had gone to get a soda or a microwave burrito (or just fallen asleep for a bit), he or she might be confused and think Richard Dreyfuss at one point meets Madeleine Stowe’s mother. Kouf’s real good at creating a working reality for the film–with an unseen ex for Dreyfuss and a barely seen wife for Emilio Estevez–only in the mind of the viewer.

Dreyfuss is solid in the lead, Estevez is excellent as the sidekick though, the real surprise of the film. Stowe’s good, she and Dreyfuss have chemistry, but she occasionally tries an accent. I think it’s supposed to be Mexican Irish, but it comes off bad. Quinn’s fantastic, like I said before, and so is Ian Tracey as his sidekick (I wonder if the film were ever a juxtaposing of the two duos, with the primary leading the other down a reckless path… probably not). Dan Lauria and Forest Whitaker are funny as the prank cops….

Badham does a decent job throughout, helping with some of the endearing quality through his establishing shots (really, this one is a big complement). During the chase scenes and at the end, his work is the best. It’s dumb, “T.J. Hooker” action and he does it well. The big problem–Stakeout goes on about fifteen minutes too long–gets a quick fix, with Badham and director of photography John Seale (doing his best work of the film) create a really good ending to the film, which made me think about how Badham “movies” (I hate how he wants them to be called movies) ought to be seen, not watched.*

* The difference, of course, being in the viewer’s amount of control. An uncontrolled viewing is seen (theatrical or televised) and a controlled viewing (home video) is watched.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Badham; written by Jim Kouf; director of photography, John Seale; edited by Tom Rolf; music by Arthur B. Rubinstein; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Kouf and Cathleen Summers; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Richard Dreyfuss (Det. Chris Lecce), Emilio Estevez (Det. Bill Reimers), Madeleine Stowe (Maria McGuire), Aidan Quinn (Richard ‘Stick’ Montgomery), Dan Lauria (Det. Phil Coldshank), Forest Whitaker (Det. Jack Pismo), Ian Tracey (Caylor Reese), Earl Billings (Captain Giles), Jackson Davies (FBI Agent Lusk) and J.J. Makaro (B.C).


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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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