Peter MacNichol and Rowan Atkinson star in BEAN, directed by Mel Smith for Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Bean (1997, Mel Smith)

I’m trying to imagine how Bean would play to someone unfamiliar with the television show. Depending on one’s tolerance for bland family comedy-dramas, it might actually play better. Because Bean, the movie, removes a lot of Bean, Rowan Atkinson’s character, and instead fills the time with Peter MacNicol and his problems.

His job is on the line and his wife of presumably sixteen plus years has decided their marriage is on the rocks because of those problems with his job. Pamela Reed plays the wife and she’s exceptionally unsympathetic in her anger. Screenwriters Richard Curtis and Robin Driscoll don’t just do a hatch job with the characterizations, they keep it going and going.

Some of the problem is director Mel Smith. He resists ever shooting the film from Atkinson’s perspective, except in the longer slapstick sequences, but he also doesn’t direct the film around him well. Harris Yulin especially stumbles around looking for direction. The supporting cast is mostly indistinct, though Burt Reynolds gets a smile or two and Larry Drake gets an actual laugh.

With all the celebrity cameos, Bean should feel bigger. But Smith doesn’t know how to direct it big. Or small. Until the ludicrous finish, the script’s tolerable. Tepid, but tolerable. The finish is atrocious though.

So why’s Bean all right, even with the finish? Because Atkinson is really, really funny and he never acts like there’s anything wrong with the film. He’s fully committed, even though his character’s constantly changing.

The film shamefully fails him.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Mel Smith; screenplay by Richard Curtis and Robin Driscoll, based on characters created by Rowan Atkinson and Curtis; director of photography, Francis Kenny; edited by Chris Blunden; music by Howard Goodall; production designer, Peter S. Larkin; produced by Peter Bennett-Jones, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), Peter MacNicol (David Langley), Pamela Reed (Alison Langley), Harris Yulin (George Grierson), Burt Reynolds (General Newton), Larry Drake (Elmer), Chris Ellis (Det. Butler), Johnny Galecki (Stingo Wheelie), Richard Gant (Lt. Brutus), Danny Goldring (Security Buck), Andrew Lawrence (Kevin Langley), Tom McGowan (Walter Merchandise), Sandra Oh (Bernice Schimmel), Tricia Vessey (Jennifer Langley) and John Mills (Chairman).

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Amidou, Francisco Rabal, Roy Scheider, and Bruno Cremer star in SORCERER, directed by William Friedkin for Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures.

Sorcerer (1977, William Friedkin)

It’s incredible how much concern director William Friedkin is able to get for his characters in Sorcerer. Now, the film’s really kind of like four or five movies in one–there are four prologues, with very full ones for Bruno Cremer and Roy Scheider, then there’s the story of Cremer, Scheider and Amidou (who also gets a prologue, just not a substantial one) in South America, then there’s the story of Ramon Bieri and his American oil company and how it affects the local South American population, then there’s the story of these four guys who have to drive dangerous chemicals to an oil well fire.

Sorcerer is packed.

The “real” movie, the actual drive across dangerous terrain, starts almost halfway into the film. It’s amazing stuff. The film’s beautifully edited by Bud S. Smith; he and Friedkin create impossibly tense situations. The success is even more impressive because none of the characters, save Cremer to some degree, are likable. Scheider’s a bit of a jerk, a bit of a moron.

But for about seventy-five percent of its run time, Sorcerer is glorious. Friedkin aims high and hits every note just right. Then things fall apart. There’s a lengthy, silly hallucination sequence. There’s odd characterizations, there’s too emphatic Tangerine Dream (who Friedkin usually let take a back seat to the great sound design). Sorcerer unravels in the home stretch.

The good stuff and the great stuff still makes the film worthwhile. It’s masterful work from Friedkin and Smith.

Bad finish though.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by William Friedkin; screenplay by Walon Green, based on a novel by Georges Arnaud; directors of photography, John M. Stephens and Dick Bush; edited by Bud S. Smith; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, John Box; released by Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures.

Starring Roy Scheider (‘Dominguez’), Bruno Cremer (‘Serrano’), Francisco Rabal (Nilo), Amidou (‘Martinez’), Ramon Bieri (Corlette), Peter Capell (Lartigue), Karl John (‘Marquez’), Friedrich von Ledebur (‘Carlos’), Chico Martínez (Bobby Del Rios), Joe Spinell (Spider) and Rosario Almontes (Agrippa).

George Sanders and Hedy Lamarr star in THE STRANGE WOMAN, directed by Edgar G. Ulmer for United Artists.

The Strange Woman (1946, Edgar G. Ulmer)

The Strange Woman opens with Dennis Hoey as a drunken widower and Jo Ann Marlowe as his evil little daughter. Herb Meadow's script is real bad in this opening, but it's nineteenth century kids playing and one of them is a psychopath, how good is the script going to be? But then it jumps forward to Hedy Lamarr playing the daughter, presumably as a young woman just of marrying age, and Hoey's contemporaries lusting after his kid.

The principal luster is Gene Lockhart, who schemes–aided by Lamarr's manipulations of her situation–to get her into his house and bed. In other words, there's no one particularly likable in Woman. When Lockhart's son, played by Louis Hayward, gets home from university, Lamarr's trying to seduce him too. He forgot how she once tried to kill him, obviously.

The film actually moves really well for the first forty or fifty minutes because it's a turgid, sensational melodrama without any likable characters. There's no investment. Lamarr's terrible, Hayward's terrible, the script's terrible. It's not like director Ulmer does much interesting–the film mostly takes place in boring houses or in front of them–but it does move.

Then George Sanders finally shows up as the latest man Lamarr must have–only he's not a dirty old man like Lockhart or a lust-crazed fop like Hayward, he's the story's first honest major character. Fifty minutes in is too late to introduce the protagonist.

The ending is really dumb, but it doesn't matter. So's the rest of the picture.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer; screenplay by Herb Meadow, based on the novel by Ben Ames Williams; director of photography, Lucien N. Andriot; edited by John M. Foley and Richard G. Wray; music by Carmen Dragon; production designer, Nicolai Remisoff; produced by Jack Chertok and Eugen Schüfftan; released by United Artists.

Starring Hedy Lamarr (Jenny Hager), George Sanders (John Evered), Louis Hayward (Ephraim Poster), Gene Lockhart (Isaiah Poster), Hillary Brooke (Meg Saladine), Rhys Williams (Deacon Adams), June Storey (Lena Tempest), Moroni Olsen (Rev. Thatcher), Olive Blakeney (Mrs. Hollis), Kathleen Lockhart (Mrs. Partridge), Alan Napier (Judge Henry Saladine) and Dennis Hoey (Tim Hager).

Linda Fiorentino and Matthew Modine star in VISION QUEST, directed by Harold Becker for Warner Bros.

Vision Quest (1985, Harold Becker)

Linda Fiorentino might be a year older than Matthew Modine back she's supposed to be playing a worldly twenty-one year-old to his eighteen year-old high school senior in Vision Quest and they sure don't look it. Modine looks about twenty-four, his age at the time of filming. Fiorentino looks twenty-one. She isn't the problem with the film (she nearly makes it worth a look on her own).

The problem isn't even Modine, who's very earnest, just physically unable to portray his character. The problem's Darryl Ponicsan's awkward script. The film's technically perfect–great photography from Owen Roizman, great editing from Maury Winetrobe–and Becker does compose his shots well, he just can't make the script work. It's superficial and set back; Modine's barely got a character to play. All of his character relationships are a joke–Ponicsan implies people other than Modine having stories, but Fiorentino's the only one to pull it off–even though the supporting cast is superb.

Wait, Michael Schoeffling gets an impossible role. A better script would juxtapose Schoeffling and Modine, both growing up without mothers, except Ponicsan wants to fixate on Modine's asinine crush on Fiorentino. Even more inexplicable is why Fiorentino would go for Modine.

But Ronny Cox, Harold Sylvester, Charles Hallahan and J.C. Quinn are all really good as the adults around Modine. His obvious not-teenage age isn't their fault.

The approach–focusing on Modine, letting everything else be background–would work if the background were well-done. It isn't.

The soundtrack–top forties, lame Tangerine Dream–doesn't help.

Fiorentino's fantastic, however.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Harold Becker; screenplay by Darryl Ponicsan, based on the novel by Terry Davis; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Maury Winetrobe; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, Bill Malley; produced by Peter Guber and Jon Peters; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Matthew Modine (Louden Swain), Linda Fiorentino (Carla), Michael Schoeffling (Kuch), Ronny Cox (Louden’s Dad), Harold Sylvester (Tanneran), Charles Hallahan (Coach), Daphne Zuniga (Margie Epstein) and J.C. Quinn (Elmo).


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Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson star in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo for Walt Disney Pictures.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has a bunch of great, thoughtful scenes and many excellent–and some just better than normal–performances but it doesn't add up to much. Those fine scenes don't have enough separation from the very hurried plot to resonate on their own. What should be subplots turn out to be nothing but texture scenes or, more cynically, ones to tie into later big plot developments.

Directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo do an adequate job with the film. Some of the action, particularly in the first half, is good. The big finale goes from way too hurried for the scenes with sidekicks Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie to way too protracted with Chris Evans's second big fight opposite Sebastian Stan. These scenes take place amid the film's only enormous CGI sequence, which the directors don't really know what to do with.

The acting is all good; even the weaker performances like Johansson's are mostly all right. Evans and Mackie are fantastic. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely don't have an honest relationship between any of the characters–Evans and Johansson, Evans and Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Redford–but the actors make it all work.

Though Redford does look a little lost. He doesn't chew the scenery as much as the role requires.

Nice supporting work from Frank Grillo too.

The Winter Soldier stays engaging throughout–even during the bloated third act. The film's already got the viewers invested in the characters.

It's too bad though, it should've been better.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Trent Opaloch; edited by Jeffrey Ford; music by Henry Jackman; production designer, Peter Wenham; produced by Kevin Fiege; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Sebastian Stan (The Winter Soldier), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon), Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill), Frank Grillo (Brock Rumlow), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Toby Jones (Dr. Arnim Zola), Georges St-Pierre (Batroc), Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury).


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William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy star in STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, directed by Nicholas Meyer for Paramount Pictures.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991, Nicholas Meyer)

From the second scene of the Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, it's clear director Meyer is going to be somewhat merciless in how he presents the film. It's not just a story about a sea change in the franchise's mythology or about the familiar cast members retiring, it's also about it being the final Star Trek movie.

Meyer gets phenomenal performances out of his cast; there's the light stuff, usually with DeForest Kelley or Walter Koenig, but he also goes dark with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Somehow, Meyer manages to balance the film between serious–it's about violent bigotry, after all–and a dark gray genial. The film opens with space disaster followed with a jolting dose of that bigotry.

Playing a new crew member, Kim Cattrall gets the most comedic relief moments. Not as the target of them, but as the perpetrator. Meyer relies on her to be the audience's entry into some of the picture; she's the regular person among the titans. It's a nice narrative trick and one of the more successful ones. There are some less successful ones, which mostly get by due to the abilities of the actors. The big example is Shatner's character arc. It doesn't work because Shatner can't play it bigoted enough; Meyer tries to edit around it but still. Also less successful is Christopher Plummer's character. Plummer's great, but the part's too thin.

At the same time, lots of subtle narrative moves work out great.

The film's problematic, but incredibly successful.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Meyer; screenplay by Meyer and Denny Martin Flinn, based on a story by Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal and the television series created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Hiro Narita; edited by William Hoy and Ronald Roose; music by Cliff Eidelman; production designer, Herman F. Zimmermann; produced by Ralph Winter and Steven-Charles Jaffe; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), DeForest Kelley (McCoy), James Doohan (Scotty), Walter Koenig (Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhuru), George Takei (Sulu), Mark Lenard (Sarek), David Warner (Chancellor Gorkon), Kim Cattrall (Lt. Valeris), Rosanna DeSoto (Azetbur), Christopher Plummer (Chang), Kurtwood Smith (Federation President), Brock Peters (Admiral Cartwright), Paul Rossilli (Kerla), John Schuck (Klingon Ambassador), Iman (Martia), Leon Russom (Chief in Command) and Michael Dorn (Klingon Defense Attorney).

William Shatner, Laurence Luckinbill, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley star in STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER, directed by William Shatner for Paramount Pictures.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989, William Shatner)

In some ways, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is an ambitious movie pretending to be popcorn entertainment pretending to be an ambitious movie. There's a lot of nonsense about self-help, not to mention the whole God thing, and none of it works. Partially, it doesn't work because David Loughery's script is too thin, but it also doesn't work because Final Frontier is paced as an action movie, not a self-reflective sci-fi outing.

But there's a definite subtext–not quite subplot, the film ignores any subplots it starts–regarding the continued bond between William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley. About the only thing the movie does really well is the character stuff, not just for those three principals (it's often a comedy showcase for Kelley), but also for the rest of the regular cast. Of course, the script forgets about developing these good character moments, but they're nice to have around.

There's also a good performance from Laurence Luckinbill as the film's de facto antagonist. The handling of his character is another positive about the film. He gets more of a character arc than any of the regular cast.

As far as directing, Shatner does a fine enough job. The action's fast-paced, with excellent editing from Peter E. Berger. Andrew Laszlo's photography is decent too. A lot of the special effects are fantastic. Except the end when it really needs them.

The Jerry Goldsmith score's trying.

The Final Frontier's about as good as any "Star Trek finds God" picture could be.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by William Shatner; screenplay by David Loughery, based on a story by Shatner, Harve Bennett and Loughery and the television series created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Andrew Laszlo; edited by Peter S. Berger; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Herman F. Zimmerman; produced by Bennett; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), DeForest Kelley (McCoy), James Doohan (Scotty), Walter Koenig (Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), George Takei (Sulu), Laurence Luckinbill (Sybok), Charles Cooper (Korrd), Cynthia Gouw (Caithlin Dar), Spice Williams-Crosby (Vixis), Todd Bryant (Captain Klaa) and David Warner (St. John Talbot).

Gabriel Byrne stars in MILLER'S CROSSING, directed by Joel Coen for 20th Century Fox.

Miller’s Crossing (1990, Joel Coen)

A lot of Miller’s Crossing is left unsaid. Between the hard boiled dialogue disguising character motivations and the lengthy shots of Gabriel Byrne silently reflecting, the Coen Brothers invite examination and rumination. They invite it a little too much.

The film’s a perfect object, whether it’s how the opening titles figure into revealing conversation and to the finish or how the frequent fades to black control the viewer’s consumption of the film. All of the performances are outstanding. Every single moment is supports the whole.

So what’s wrong with it? Too much control. Even the craziness–the film examines violence and the men who perform it–is choreographed. It’s an amazing example of filmmaking, but it’s all surface. All of the layers in Miller’s are baked in, not organic. The story’s too tight. A couple cameos in the second half, along with nods to other Coen pictures, offer some calculated relief.

It’s actually kind of stagy.

There’s also a vague homophobic quality… the closeted (it’s the thirties) gay guys are all misogynist psychopaths to one degree or another.

But it’s a beautifully made, beautifully acted film. Byrne’s great in the lead, Marcia Gay Harden is excellent as the girl who comes between him and friend Albert Finney. Finney gives the film’s boldest performance, having to play a dim tough guy.

Jon Polito’s awesome, J.E. Freeman, John Turturro–like I said before, it’s perfect. It’s confident, it’s thorough.

It just doesn’t add up to as much as if it were messy.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Coen; written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen; director of photography, Barry Sonnenfeld; edited by Michael R. Miller; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Dennis Gassner; produced by Ethan Coen; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gabriel Byrne (Tom Reagan), Marcia Gay Harden (Verna), John Turturro (Bernie Bernbaum), Jon Polito (Johnny Caspar), J.E. Freeman (Eddie Dane), Albert Finney (Leo), Mike Starr (Frankie), Al Mancini (Tic-Tac), Richard Woods (Mayor Dale Levander), Thomas Toner (O’Doole) and Steve Buscemi (Mink).


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Jared Rushton, Robert Oliveri, Amy O'Neill and Thomas Wilson Brown get small in HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS, directed by Joe Johnston for Walt Disney Pictures.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989, Joe Johnston)

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is a constant battle between trite and sincere. Except the special effects stuff; the special effects are astounding, especially the sequences where there's a mix of styles, between practical and optical, and a mix of sizes. Director Johnston does such an exceptional job making the fantastic palatable, it's too bad the script isn't less banal when it comes to the character work.

Oddly, some of the character stuff is great. The relationship between the kids–Thomas Wilson Brown and Amy O'Neill are the teens, Jared Rushton and Robert Oliveri are their annoying little brothers–develops wonderfully once they're in crisis and have shared traumatic experiences. Brown, O'Neill and Rushton all give outstanding performances. Oliveri oscillates between grating and sympathetic. Unfortunately, the script decides to encourage the grating, which is one of Shrunk's many third act problems.

Then there are the adults. Rick Moranis phones it in as the scientist dad of O'Neill and Oliveri, Marcia Strassman is effective as his suffering wife. Matt Frewer and Kristine Sutherland play Brown and Rushton's parents. Sutherland's great. Frewer's likable; he gets an actual character arc.

Screenwriters Ed Naha and Tom Schulman bring a tone-deafness not just to how kids interact with their parents, but also how Strassman deals with Moranis. Makes one wonder if a script doctor handled the miniaturized kids versus the great outdoors while bonding. Not to mention the nice romance.

Regardless of the bad finish, Shrunk's beautifully made and does have some very good stuff in it.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Johnston; screenplay by Ed Naha and Tom Schulman, based on a story by Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna and Naha; director of photography, Hiro Narita; edited by Michael A. Stevenson; music by James Horner; production designer, Gregg Fonseca; produced by Penney Finkelman Cox; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Thomas Wilson Brown (Little Russ Thompson), Amy O’Neill (Amy Szalinski), Robert Oliveri (Nick Szalinski), Jared Rushton (Ron Thompson)Rick Moranis (Wayne Szalinski), Marcia Strassman (Diane Szalinski), Kristine Sutherland (Mae Thompson) and Matt Frewer (Big Russ Thompson).


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Rachel Ward and Jeff Bridges are on the run in AGAINST ALL ODDS, directed by Taylor Hackford for Columbia Pictures.

Against All Odds (1984, Taylor Hackford)

If Against All Odds had just a few more things going for it, the film might qualify as a glorious disaster. There are a lot of glorious elements to it, even if there aren't quite enough to make it worthwhile. Or even passable.

Hackford's direction is outstanding. He's fully committed to Eric Hughes's terrible script. It doesn't matter if it's plotting, logic or characters, Hughes can't do any of them. Odds is three films stuck together–Jeff Bridges as an injured football player (an absurdly old one) who has to figure out what to do with his life, Bridges and Rachel Ward's travelogue romance in scenic Mexico, and then a good old fashioned L.A. city corruption story. Actually, the first and last tie together somewhat; it's the lengthy Mexican sojourn where Odds uses up most of its goodwill.

It gets that goodwill partially from Hackford, who's got great photography from Donald E. Thorin and outstanding music from Michel Colombier and Larry Carlton. Odds always looks good and sounds good. But there's an excellent supporting cast–James Woods is phenomenal, Richard Widmark's great, Jane Greer, Swoosie Kurtz, Saul Rubinek–they're all good. The problem's the leads. Ward is awful. Sure, Hughes writes her as an object and can't figure out her character motivation, but she's still awful. Bridges isn't any good for similar reasons; silly writing, nonsense story arc. But at least he's likable.

There are a couple moments where all the good things collide and Odds is sublime.

There needed to be more.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Taylor Hackford; screenplay by Eric Hughes, based on a film written by Daniel Mainwaring; director of photography, Donald E. Thorin; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Michel Colombier and Larry Carlton; production designer, Richard Lawrence; produced by William S. Gilmore and Hackford; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Terry Brogan), Rachel Ward (Jessie Wyler), James Woods (Jake Wise), Alex Karras (Hank Sully), Jane Greer (Mrs. Wyler), Richard Widmark (Ben Caxton), Dorian Harewood (Tommy), Swoosie Kurtz (Edie) and Saul Rubinek (Steve Kirsch).


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