Karen Allen and Jeff Bridges star in STARMAN, directed by John Carpenter for Columbia Pictures.

Starman (1984, John Carpenter)

Starman’s first forty or so minutes speed by–director Carpenter gets as much information across as quickly as he can to discourage the viewer from paying too much attention. There aren’t exactly plot holes, but there’s a lot of silliness in the script. For example, Charles Martin Smith–who’s perfectly good in the film–has an entirely pointless character. He’s just there to contrive some drama in the third act.

Except it isn’t really dramatic because Starman’s narrative is exceedingly predictable. What isn’t predictable is Carpenter’s direction or the performances from Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen. Bridges gets the unique leading man role of being able to continually reinvent his performance; right up until the last scene of the film, there’s always something new he gets to do.

The script doesn’t fully acknowledge the strangeness of Allen’s character’s situation–her husband reincarnated but as an entirely different being. Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon’s script is never particularly smart or self-aware. In some ways, Carpenter just ignores the script problems and pushes forward. He matches his personal indulgences (like the massively choreographed and utterly useless helicopter sequence) with similar indulgences for Bridges and Allen. Carpenter’s showcasing, because there’s not much else to do with the problematic narrative.

Carpenter keeps the filmmaking ambitious, compensating somewhat for the script. The lush Jack Nitzsche score is initially muted, only coming through as the narrative develops. Carpenter and cinematographer Donald M. Morgan create some fantastic visuals.

It’s a glorious, gorgeous misfire.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon; director of photography, Donald M. Morgan; edited by Marion Rothman; music by Jack Nitzsche; production designer, Daniel A. Lomino; produced by Larry J. Franco; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Starman), Karen Allen (Jenny Hayden), Charles Martin Smith (Mark Shermin), Robert Phalen (Major Bell), Tony Edwards (Sergeant Lemon) and Richard Jaeckel (George Fox).

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Deadpool (2012, Tim Miller)

Deadpool is an effects test by Miller to prove a feature is possible. It’s unclear, in terms of a narrative, if the ninety second short answers that question in the positive but it doesn’t much matter. These ninety seconds of a strange masked comic book character directly addressing the viewer are phenomenal.

There’s a certain smugness to Ryan Reynolds’s performance–the titular, very skinny character is CG, but Reynolds did the motion capture and voice–but Miller makes it work. The comic timing of the test footage is what’s so spectacular.

A feature length version would probably be tiresome unless it was just one high quality action scene after another.

Miller gets everything right–the bad guys, the mood, the music–he’s proposing the idea of a superhero action movie, with lots of CG, but on a human action movie scale.

It’s a neat idea… but probably wouldn’t work out.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Miller; based on a character created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld.

Starring Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool).

Robert Duvall stars in THX 1138, directed by George Lucas for Warner Bros.

THX 1138 (1971, George Lucas)

Director Lucas makes one attempt at audience accessibility in THX 1138. It’s actually the first thing he does–he shows a clip from an old Flash Gordon serial to let the audience know the story is about the future. The clip also lets the audience know the future isn’t going to be happy.

And once he’s made that concession, he stops being accessible at all. There are no explanations in the film, no foreshadowing, no acknowledgement of the characters’ realizations, Lucas doesn’t even introduce his leads in an easy fashion. Lucas instead just quickly visually familiarizes the audience with the leads–Robert Duvall, Maggie McOmie, Donald Pleasence–before focusing in on Duvall amid the first action confusion.

Lucas’s secret weapon in THX 1138 is co-writer and sound designer Walter Murch. While the film definitely has distinctive visuals right off, the sound is even more important to setting the film’s tone. Lucas and Murch confuse the viewer at the same time they confuse Duvall–it’s the only way to put the viewer on anything near a similar level. Later on, when Pleasence is exploring his future world for the first time (and the viewer’s), he stops and gives up, not wanting to know. Only then does his introspection reveal anything to the viewer about the future world.

Except there’s no explanation of the terminology, which leaves the viewer again removed.

The film’s biggest problem is its length–it’s just too short to submerge the viewer–but it’s still a masterfully produced film. Great photography and editing too.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Edited and directed by George Lucas; screenplay by Lucas and Walter Murch, based on a story by Lucas; directors of photography, Albert Kihn and David Myers; music by Lalo Schifrin; produced by Larry Sturhahn; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Robert Duvall (THX), Donald Pleasence (SEN), Don Pedro Colley (SRT), Maggie McOmie (LUH), Ian Wolfe (PTO), Marshall Efron (TWA), Sid Haig (NCH), John Pearce (DWY) and James Wheaton (OMM).

Mark Strong and Taissa Farmiga star in ANNA, directed by Jorge Dorado for Vertical Entertainment.

Anna (2013, Jorge Dorado)

Anna is an exceptionally stupid movie. Apparently, no one involved with the film has seen films like Inception or The Sixth Sense because Anna apes big reveals from both of them rather obviously. It’s not a matter of guessing the twist ending, it’s a matter of trying to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing instead of guessing the twist ending.

One possibility for the filmmakers going with the incompetency of Guy Holmes’s script is Mark Strong. As the lead, Strong seems compassionate and authoritative, but it turns out he’s a moron too. Some of the problem might be how poorly the film establishes its reality, where mind detectives consult and go into people’s memories for supplemental evidence in court cases. But these mind trips have no bearing in court… like I said, it’s a dumb movie.

But it’s really well-acted from the leads. Strong’s character is doing his job for the money so maybe Strong was just doing the role for the money. He’s excellent, Taissa Farmiga is fantastic as the titular Anna. They’re both able to transcend the script. Because besides having an unimaginative approach to setting, it’s a good looking film. Dorado’s decent with composition and Óscar Faura’s cinematography is breathtaking.

The supporting cast–who are all suspects–don’t do as well as the leads. Brian Cox cashes a paycheck, Saskia Reeves looks lost, Richard Dillane isn’t bad. Indira Varma’s not good, however; a combination of mediocre accent and terrible writing.

Anna isn’t entirely worthless, just extremely close.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jorge Dorado; screenplay by Guy Holmes, based on a story by Guy Holmes and Martha Holmes; director of photography, Óscar Faura; edited by Jaime Valdueza; music by Lucas Vidal; production designer, Alain Bainée; produced by Jaume Collet-Serra, Peter Safran, Juan Sola and Mercedes Gamero; released by Vertical Entertainment.

Starring Mark Strong (John Washington), Taissa Farmiga (Anna Greene), Saskia Reeves (Michelle Greene), Richard Dillane (Robert Greene), Indira Varma (Judith), Noah Taylor (Peter Lundgren), Alberto Ammann (Tom Ortega) and Brian Cox (Sebastian).

Gillian Anderson, Haley Joel Osment, and Rufus Sewell star in I'LL FOLLOW YOU DOWN, directed by Richie Mehta for eOne Films.

I’ll Follow You Down (2013, Richie Mehta)

There are a handful of easily fixable problems with I’ll Follow You Down. Director Mehta shoots it in Panavision aspect ratio and doesn’t know what to do with all the width. Combined with Tico Poulakakis’s lens flare happy cinematography, Follow looks like a glossy television commercial. There’s never a sense of time or place, which is a big problem considering it’s about time and place.

Mehta isn’t great with directing actors either, but most of the cast can work through it. Gillian Anderson, for example, gives a breathtaking small performance. Mehta gives the cast a lot of room–it’s kind of a sci-fi story, but one where the human aspects are far more important (not to mention cheaper to shoot). So the film’s a showcase for Anderson.

Victor Garber also does really well and he’s got some of the hardest scenes in the film.

In the lead, Haley Joel Osment is decent. He’s occasionally really good, but he also has some too pat moments. He’s just not dramatic enough; like I said, Mehta isn’t great with actors. Rufus Sewell has the exact same problems so it’s clearly not the actors.

The only weak performance is Susanna Fournier as Osment’s girlfriend. She has the second hardest part after Garber and she can’t sell the scenes like he can.

Mehta has some iffy dialogue and a lot of missed opportunities, which might be budgetary, might not be budgetary.

But Follow has two great performances and two often good ones. It’s a conditional success.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Richie Mehta; director of photography, Tico Poulakakis; edited by Stuart A. McIntyre; music by Andrew Lockington; production designer, Chris Crane; produced by Lee Kim; released by eOne Films.

Starring Haley Joel Osment (Erol), Gillian Anderson (Marika), Rufus Sewell (Gabe), John Paul Ruttan (Young Erol), Susanna Fournier (Grace), Sherry Miller (Mrs. Moore) and Victor Garber (Sal).

Gordon Douglas, Richard Attenborough, and Steve McQueen star in THE GREAT ESCAPE, directed by John Sturges for United Artists.

The Great Escape (1963, John Sturges)

While The Great Escape runs nearly three hours, director Sturges and screenwriters James Clavell and W.R. Burnett never let it feel too long. Part of the quick pace comes from the first half hour being told in something like real time and another big part of it is the aftermath of the escape taking up the last hour. So for ninety minutes, the audience is getting to know and like the characters. It gives the escape aftermath a breakneck pace, even though Sturges doesn't do much different.

The Elmer Bernstein score also plays a large part. It's frequently upbeat and congratulatory to the characters (and sometimes the audience), but Bernstein also bakes in the possibility of tragedy. The music can go from light to dark in a second and the film trains the audience to prepare for such moves.

Also contributing to the film's relative brevity is how the script pairs characters up. Usually it's a strong personage with a weaker one, but the actors do such a good job–and Sturges often sticks with scenes of characters' frailties until they're uncomfortable–the pairings are never hollow. Even Steve McQueen, who gets a huge solo set piece at the end, starts off with a sidekick or two.

Most of the acting is spectacular. Richard Attenborough might give the best performance; him or James Donald. They both have the most responsibility and it clearly weighs on them. But James Garner, McQueen, Donald Pleasence, Gordon Jackson, Hannes Messemer–also all excellent.

It's an outstanding picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by John Sturges; screenplay by James Clavell and W.R. Burnett, based on the book by Paul Brickhill; director of photography, Daniel L. Fapp; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Elmer Bernstein; released by United Artists.

Starring Steve McQueen (Hilts), James Garner (Hendley), Richard Attenborough (Bartlett), James Donald (Ramsey), Charles Bronson (Danny), Donald Pleasence (Blythe), James Coburn (Sedgwick), Hannes Messemer (Von Luger), David McCallum (Ashley-Pitt), Gordon Jackson (MacDonald), John Leyton (Willie), Angus Lennie (Ives), Nigel Stock (Cavendish), Jud Taylor (Goff) and Robert Graf (Werner).

Ali MacGraw and Steve McQueen star in THE GETAWAY, directed by Sam Peckinpah for National General Pictures.

The Getaway (1972, Sam Peckinpah)

From the lengthy opening credits to the big action finale, it's always clear sound is important in The Getaway. Editor Robert L. Wolfe does some wonderful transitions with sound foreshadowing the cut and the next scene, but there's something more to it. That something more is the isolation theme running through the film–Steve McQueen starts in prison, surrounded by these loud, garish, yet hollow sounds. The action finale, at a nearly deserted hotel, also has loud, hollow sounds. They amplify Peckinpah's composition–particularly for the finish–and reinforce the film's dreamlike quality.

The Getaway is a few things at once. It's a heist picture, it's a revenge picture, it's a seventies relationship drama. That relationship aspect to it, with recently released from prison McQueen and wife Ali McGraw having some big problems, is the film's quietest plot line… if only because there's so much noise around it. But Peckinpah, McQueen, McGraw and screenwriter Walter Hill always keep it present. McGraw's timid, nervous performance works wonders–she's apparently inscrutable, but not really.

She and McQueen have fantastic chemistry, which they need to give their story more gravitas than Al Lettieri's subplot. Lettieri is a opportunist thief who kidnaps Sally Struthers and Jack Dodson in his pursuit of McQueen. Lettieri runs away with a bunch of the film. He's spellbinding; no other word for it. Struthers is rather good as well.

Technically, the film's a marvel. The Lucien Ballard photography is phenomenal, day or night, action or drama.

The Getaway is a fantastic motion picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Peckinpah; screenplay by Walter Hill, based on the novel by Jim Thompson; director of photography, Lucien Ballard; edited by Robert L. Wolfe; music by Quincy Jones; produced by David Foster and Mitchell Brower; released by National General Pictures.

Starring Steve McQueen (Doc McCoy), Ali MacGraw (Carol McCoy), Ben Johnson (Jack Beynon), Al Lettieri (Rudy Butler), Slim Pickens (Cowboy), Richard Bright (The Thief), Jack Dodson (Harold Clinton), Dub Taylor (Laughlin), Bo Hopkins (Frank Jackson), Roy Jenson (Cully), John Bryson (The Accountant) and Sally Struthers (Fran Clinton).

A scene from JAWS 2, directed by Jeannot Szwarc for Universal Pictures.

Jaws 2 (1978, Jeannot Szwarc)

There's definitely a good movie somewhere in Jaws 2; maybe just one without so much shark. Sadly, most of its narrative problems seem obvious to fix. For example, if the shark isn't confirmed and Roy Scheider might just be suffering post-traumatic stress… maybe they didn't want to go dark.

Instead, the filmmakers go bright, shiny and stupid. Director Szwarc doesn't do particularly well with his actors–for some reason Scheider is frequently staring into the camera and past whoever he's sharing the scene with–but most of his composition is fantastic. And Michael C. Butler's photography is gorgeous. Jaws 2 definitely looks good. It sounds good too–John Williams's score is great, the sound design on the film is great.

It's just really dumb.

The film slaps Scheider's story of bickering with town officials in front of this "teens in danger" movie. The stuff with the teens doesn't get enough time once they're in actual danger (and too much time before that part of the film), but there are some sublime moments.

No one in the film is particularly bad, except Donna Wilkes, and there are some acting stand-outs. David Elliot, Keith Gordon, Ann Dusenberry, Mark Gruner–all good performances. Lorraine Gary gets a few good moments as Scheider's wife, though not enough. There's a strange subtext about her having a career being a big problem–she's even wearing pants right before Scheider gets in trouble at work.

It's long, it's bad, it's pretty. The technical pluses oddly outweigh all the other minuses. Kind of.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jeannot Szwarc; screenplay by Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler, based on characters created by Peter Benchley; director of photography, Michael C. Butler; edited by Steve Potter, Arthur Schmidt and Neil Travis; music by John Williams; production designer, Joe Alves; produced by Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Roy Scheider (Police Chief Martin Brody), Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody), Murray Hamilton (Mayor Larry Vaughn), Joseph Mascolo (Len Peterson), Jeffrey Kramer (Deputy Jeff Hendricks), Collin Wilcox Paxton (Dr. Lureen Elkins), Ann Dusenberry (Tina Wilcox), Mark Gruner (Mike Brody), Barry Coe (Tom Andrews), Susan French (Grace Witherspoon), Gary Springer (Andy Nicholas), Donna Wilkes (Jackie Peters), Gary Dubin (Eddie Marchand), John Dukakis (Paul ‘Polo’ Loman), G. Thomas Dunlop (Timmy Weldon), David Elliott (Larry Vaughn Jr.), Marc Gilpin (Sean Brody), Keith Gordon (Doug Fetterman), Cindy Grover (Lucy), Ben Marley (Patrick), Martha Swatek (Marge), Billy Van Zandt (Bob) and Gigi Vorgan (Brooke Peters).

Jerry Lewis, Tommy Farrell, and Dean Martin star in AT WAR WITH THE ARMY, directed by Hal Walker for Paramount Pictures.

At War with the Army (1950, Hal Walker)

I wonder what At War with the Army would be like if it were funny. I also wonder what it would be like if director Walker could figure out how to open up a scene. Sure, the whole thing is shot on limited exteriors and then the same interiors–it takes place on an army base–but Walker just goes through the same shots over and over again. Worse, there are musical numbers and Walker is even more inept at their staging. The first one, in the mess hall, is a no brainer but Walker flops with it.

Paul Weatherwax's editing is solid and it hints at how the scene could have been a whole lot better.

The script is the next problem. Even though the script is from the film's producer, Fred F. Finklehoffe, it plays like he doesn't understand the difference between a movie and a stage play. The long scenes, full of repeated character gags and annoying contrivances, drag. It's curious to see fast-talking Mike Kellin and Jerry Lewis plow through their lengthy dialogue deliveries to fill time.

The script sets up Lewis, Dean Martin and Tommy Farrell as the most likable characters in the film, but mostly because no one else is at all endearing. With Lewis, there's the oddity of him being sympathetic because lead Martin is gently nasty to him. But it's not enough to make Army worthwhile.

As for Martin, he delivers the lousy dialogue really well. Again, not enough to make the movie worthwhile.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Hal Walker; screenplay by Fred F. Finklehoffe, based on the play by James B. Allardice; director of photography, Stuart Thompson; edited by Paul Weatherwax; produced by Finklehoffe; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Dean Martin (1st Sgt. Vic Puccinelli), Jerry Lewis (Pfc. Alvin Korwin), Mike Kellin (Sgt. McVey), Jimmie Dundee (Eddie), Dick Stabile (Pvt. Pokey), Tommy Farrell (Cpl. Clark), Frank Hyers (Cpl. Shaughnessy), Danny Dayton (Supply Sgt. Miller), William Mendrek (Capt. Ernest Caldwell), Kenneth Forbes (Lt. Davenport), Paul Livermore (Pvt. Jack Edwards), Ty Perry (Lt. Terray) and Polly Bergen (Helen Palmer).

Clint Eastwood stars in FIREFOX, directed by Eastwood for Warner Bros.

Firefox (1982, Clint Eastwood)

Firefox has three distinct phases. First, there's retired Air Force pilot Clint Eastwood getting recruited into an espionage mission. This part of the film barely takes any time at all–there's three missing months–Eastwood, as the director, does not like montage sequences. Even the opening exposition setting up the movie is cut together quickly; Ron Spang and Ferris Webster's editing is fantastic throughout. The opening sequence just introduces them as an essential component to the film.

The second phase is the espionage phase. Eastwood heads to Russia, where he meets up with dissident Warren Clarke who's going to help him. This part of the film is the most impressive. It's constant action as Eastwood is on the run from the KGB; the script's a little strange–it never lets Eastwood be in control during this section. He's always a few steps behind. Clarke's great.

The final phase is the extended fighter jet sequence. Most of the film before this sequence–except the opening–is either inside or takes place at night. The flight sequences are effects galore and Bruce Surtees shows off how startling he can make some of the shots. It's not a particularly exciting sequence; it takes over thirty minutes. It's practically its own movie, only it eventually forgets about Klaus Löwitsch as the general tasked with tracking Eastwood down while Stefan Schnabel's bureaucrat harasses him.

It's a missed opportunity, narratively speaking, but some glorious filmmaking.

Actually, that description sums up Firefox overall. The espionage stuff is strong, but the flying's gorgeous.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Clint Eastwood; screenplay by Alex Lasker and Wendell Wellman, based on the novel by Craig Thomas; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Ron Spang and Ferris Webster; music by Maurice Jarre; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Mitchell Gant), Freddie Jones (Kenneth Aubrey), David Huffman (Captain Buckholz), Warren Clarke (Pavel Upenskoy), Ronald Lacey (Semelovsky), Kenneth Colley (Colonel Kontarsky), Klaus Löwitsch (General Vladimirov), Nigel Hawthorne (Pyotr Baranovich) and Stefan Schnabel (First Secretary).

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