Category Archives: 1982

Heatwave (1982, Phillip Noyce)

Heatwave is not a film noir. It seems like it ought to be one, but it’s not. It’s got all the pieces to be a film noir, but the way director Noyce assembles them doesn’t result in noir. There are occasionally these heavily stylized slow motion sequences. Sometimes Noyce and editor John Scott emphasize relief, sometimes violence, sometimes heat. The film’s narrative distance isn’t noir enough. It’s a really cool narrative distance, but it’s not at all noir. It’s a breakneck paced thriller, only with two protagonists who don’t realize they’re in a thriller. They think they’re in entirely different stories.

Second-billed Richard Moir (who’s actually the lead) is an architect whose big new project is running into some snags. The project is a futuristic condo, made mostly of glass (Noyce never gives the model a close-up so nothing’s too specific), with trees inside and natural lighting and so on. To get the project built, the developers are going to kick out the working class residents and tear down their homes. The project is called “Eden”; Heatwave is perfectly matter-of-fact with quite a few things. It barely runs ninety minutes and has a bunch of characters, lots of story; Noyce and co-writer Marc Rosenberg never waste time, they’re pragmatic to the point of obvious but it works because Moir’s astoundingly naive. So long as he doesn’t have to compromise his designs, Moir doesn’t really care about anything. Wife Anna Maria Monticelli, who also works with him in some unexplained capacity, is a social climber. Moir’s from a working class background, Monticelli’s a blue blood. She wants to show the world her man’s made good. He’s indifferent but happy to play along; he’s getting recognized for his amazing architectural designs, everything else is gravy. But not even gravy worth caring about too much.

Then there’s top-billed Judy Davis. She’s a blue blood who went to college, got radicalized, now tries to help the working class with their plight. She works for independent, crusading journalist Carole Skinner. Skinner’s not a blue blood and she lends Davis some cred. There’s a non-subplot about Skinner and Moir being good friends before Moir went to the U.S. to study architecture and get better indoctrinated with capitalism. When he got back they weren’t friends any more. Or so the movie says. Moir’s got zero reaction to Skinner’s eventual mysterious disappearance. Notice I just gave Davis’s paragraph away? Gave it to Moir? Because the movie does the same thing, over and over.

It’s fine, it works out. But Moir’s nowhere near as interesting as Davis. At least in terms of performance. Moir’s just aloof and naive. Kind of pseudo-preppy. He’s constantly tagging along with the real alpha males, developer Chris Haywood and lawyer John Gregg. Davis gets to do a lot more. Even when Moir gets interested in Skinner’s disappearance, it’s only because he’s not cool with how scummy Haywood and Gregg are willing to go evicting residents. And because not-independent newspaper reporter and fun old guy John Meillon wants Moir to get involved.

Moir does stay involved for his own reasons… primarily Davis. He’s got the hots for Davis because she says and thinks all the things he didn’t know he kind of wanted to say or think. As for Davis… her being interested too is one of the film’s plotting efficiencies. Maybe one Noyce should’ve taken more time with, but Davis is always getting shafted on story time.

She gets a decent amount of action, but she also ends up with a bunch of the exposition. Noyce has this great device for exposition—characters sitting, listening to the radio. Because it’s too hot to do much besides sit and listen to the radio. Heatwave takes place during a winter heatwave. The film starts before Christmas, ends on New Year’s. Everyone is miserably hot, visibly miserably hot, no one ever complains, they just endure it as best they can. It’s a great built-in constant, agitating the plot whenever needed.

Heatwave’s efficient to a fault.

Excellent performance from Davis, really good one from Moir. Haywood’s good, Gregg’s good. Meillon’s decent. He’s functional for the script more than anything else. Meillon’s able to imply depth; the script doesn’t want it from him. It would be really nice if Gillian Jones were able to imply depth. She’s got a small but important role and… it’s not a good performance. Might not be Jones’s fault, given her character and the character’s writing. But still. That aspect of the film being better might have brought it up to another level.

Then again Jones is one of the noir pieces and Heatwave isn’t a noir.

Great photography Vincent Monton. Good music from Cameron Allan. Ross Major’s production design is another plus. Noyce’s direction is extravagant but never self-indulgent.

Heatwave is a rather good stiflingly hot Christmas, not noir but noir-y, stylish conspiracy thriller.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Noyce; screenplay by Noyce and Marc Rosenberg, based on a story by Mark Stiles and Tim Gooding; director of photography, Vincent Monton; edited by John Scott; music by Cameron Allan; production designer, Ross Major; produced by Hilary Linstead; released by Roadshow Film Distributors.

Starring Judy Davis (Kate Dean), Richard Moir (Stephen West), Chris Haywood (Peter Houseman), Bill Hunter (Robert Duncan), John Gregg (Philip Lawson), Anna Maria Monticelli (Victoria West), John Meillon (Freddie Dwyer), Dennis Miller (Mick Davies), Carole Skinner (Mary Ford), Gillian Jones (Barbie Lee Taylor), Frank Gallacher (Dick Molnar), Tui Bow (Annie), and Don Crosby (Jim Taylor).


This post is part of the Hotter’nell Blogathon hosted by Steve of MovieMovieBlogBlog II.

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A Charlie Brown Celebration (1982, Bill Melendez)

A Charlie Brown Celebration opens with Charles M. Schulz introducing the special–which is twice as long as a regular special–and explaining he and director Bill Melendez had a little bit different of an idea for this one. It’s going to be a series of vignettes (though Schulz doesn’t use that term), with some longer ones and some shorter ones.

The first series of short vignettes goes on so long, it’s impossible to guess what’s coming after them. It’s the end of summer and the Peanuts cast all goes back to school, mostly with Sally (Cindi Reilly) worrying about being back. But there’s some moments for the rest of the kids, particularly Peppermint Patty (Brent Hauer), and then some gentle brown-nosing from Linus (Rocky Reilly). The focus on school segues nicely into the first longer story, which has Peppermint Patty trying to decide if she wants to go to private school to get her grades up. Thing is, she doesn’t want to cost her dad too much money on it.

Good thing Snoopy’s recommendation–an obedience school–is only twenty-five bucks.

Celebration has already requested the suspension of disbelief–Snoopy in scuba gear–so Peppermint Patty running around the obstacle course, not quite about to figure out why all the other students are making their dogs do it… it works. Especially since Marcie (Shannon Cohn) is around to give Patty some moral support, as well as some particularly acerbic jabs.

The next longer vignette has Linus and Sally on a field trip where Linus runs into another woman–Truffles (voiced by Casey Carlson)–much to Sally’s chagrin. But then Linus gets stuck on a snow-covered, icy barn roof and Sally’s got to enlist Snoopy and Woodstock to save him. It’s got some charm–with a particularly good performance from Rocky Reilly, who’s on the roof in the first place to get away from the fighting girls–even if it’s a little slight.

Celebration‘s stories might be slight but the production values are always strong. Even if there’s rarely background players on screen (no one is visible at the obedience school except Patty, for instance). It’s good direction from Melendez.

The next story–Lucy throwing out Schroeder’s piano–is fantastic. Voicing Lucy, Kristen Fullerton has already had some moments in the special but once she gets more material, Celebration basically becomes a showcase for her. She tosses the piano in the sewer, leading to Schroeder (a perfectly fine Christopher Donohoe) and Charlie Brown (Michael Mandy) having to try to mount a rescue. Melendez does really well with the scale on this one.

Then it’s back to Marcie and Peppermint Patty for an attempted baseball cap heist at the local ballpark before the grand finale, Charlie Brown getting mysteriously ill and ending up in the hospital. All the Peanuts kids worry about him, particularly Lucy (again, great stuff from Fullerton).

Schulz’s script for the vignettes are strong. The shorter ones, which are like a daily comic strip as far as pacing, are all amusing or better. The longer ones are often well-plotted with some great developments–Marcie’s crisis of conscience at the ballpark heist. The performances are all fine or better. Cohn’s initially a little labored in her pauses with Marcie, but the material makes up for it. And Mandy is almost as good as Fullerton.

A Charlie Brown Celebration is exactly what it says–a celebration. With some rather great moments thanks to the cast, Schulz, and–especially–Melendez. The pluses more than make up for the occasionally wonky animation and editing.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Michael Mandy (Charlie Brown), Kristen Fullerton (Lucy van Pelt), Brent Hauer (Peppermint Patty), Shannon Cohn (Marcie), Cindi Reilly (Sally Brown), Rocky Reilly (Linus van Pelt), Christopher Donohoe (Schroeder), and Casey Carlson (Truffles).


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Basket Case (1982, Frank Henenlotter)

Basket Case is endlessly creative. Director Henenlotter doesn’t have the budget to execute anything, but it never stops him from trying; sometimes to mesmerizing effect. The film’s got these scenes requiring a lot of special effects and utilizes (obvious) stop motion to get them done. It’s all part of the buy in. Basket Case doesn’t have the budget to do first-rate effects, might as well embrace the cheapness.

And the cheapness helps reconcile the film’s broad, desperate comedy with its horrific and tragic conceit (though Henenlotter seems utterly oblivious to the tragedy). Basket Case is the aggressively exploitative tale of Kevin Van Hentenryck and his previously conjoined twin brother. They’re in New York City to kill the doctors who separated them, as the doctors were trying to kill the brother.

The brother is entirely a special effect, too occasionally claymation, otherwise an obvious puppet. Henenlotter doesn’t make the audience wait long to see the brother, who’s mostly just a head and arms. The set pieces are instead about the victims seeing the brother and being horrified. Henenlotter doesn’t try to do any characterization on the brother; he doesn’t have any personality. It’s sort of strange, given how Henenlotter relies on loud caricaturization for the film’s cast.

Lead Van Hentenryck is the only one to get a character arc. Everyone else is just someone he encounters, whether its love interest Terri Susan Smith or the denziens of his cheap (but surprisingly safe) dirty old New York, Times Square hotel. And it’s not much of a character arc. Sean McCabe, playing the character in flashback, gets more of one. It’s just something amid nothing.

Van Hentenryck’s extremely likable. From his first scene, walking through Times Square with a large, padlocked wicker basket, there’s just something likable about him. Van Hentenryck plays it harmless; the vengeance quest isn’t weighing on him–the doctors did try to kill his brother.

The eventual conflict is more about the brother’s concern Van Hentenryck is going to abandon him. Smith is a fetching love interest, after all. Van Hentenryck has to do both sides of the fraternal conflict. The brother can only speak to him and does so telepathically. Van Hentenryck does surprisingly well in those scenes; the likability pays off, which helps, since Henenlotter errs on the side of absurdity. Sometimes so much it gets in the way of narrative progression. Writer-director-editor Henenlotter sometimes lets things drag, which doesn’t help his actors. They need all the editing help they can get since Henenlotter’s not doing them any favors with the script and if he does direct performances at all, he does so badly.

A lot of the cast is likable, even when their performances aren’t any good. Some get credit for keeping a straight face, like Beverly Bonner. She’s a sex worker who befriends fellow cheapo hotel denizen Van Hentenryck. For whatever reason, Henenlotter’s editing on Bonner and Smith is the worst in the film. Shots will hang on them too long, like there’s something more imminent. But there’s never anything more. Bonner has it the worst, but only because Smith’s transition from prospective love interest to love interest gives her less to do.

Robert Vogel and Joe Clarke are the “best” in the hotel supporting cast. Diana Browne’s the most amusing loathsome villain.

The hotel itself is the film’s biggest success. Henenlotter’s frequent establishing shots–just the hotel’s neon sign, as it’s not a real location–its cramped “lobby,” its endless staircases, its motley crew of residents. It’s not authentic, but it’s the most realistic thing in the film.

Gus Russo’s score is a little too minimal. There’s never an attempt to aurally prepare the audience for a scare. Bruce Torbet’s photography is fine. Henenlotter just can’t compose a shot.

Impressively and possibly contradictorily, Basket Case is an accomplishment without ever being a success.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written, edited, and directed by Frank Henenlotter; director of photography, Bruce Torbet; music by Gus Russo; produced by Edgar Ievins; released by Analysis Film Releasing Corporation.

Starring Kevin Van Hentenryck (Duane Bradley), Terri Susan Smith (Sharon), Beverly Bonner (Casey), Ruth Neuman (Duane’s Aunt), Richard Pierce (Duane’s Father), Diana Browne (Dr. Kutter), Sean McCabe (Young Duane), Lloyd Pace (Dr. Needleman), Joe Clarke (O’Donovan), and Robert Vogel (Hotel Manager).


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Tootsie (1982, Sydney Pollack)

Tootsie opens with Dustin Hoffman giving acting classes. He’s a failed New York actor–but a well-employed waiter–who must be giving these classes on spec. It seems like Hoffman being a beloved acting teacher might end up having something to do with the plot of Tootsie, which has Hoffman pretending to be a female actor in order to get a part, but it doesn’t. Save a throwaway scene where he’s helping love interest Jessica Lange work on her part.

The film, with its two (credited) screenwriters and two story concocters (though Larry Gelbart is both), is a narrative mess. Teri Garr, as Hoffman’s student and good friend, disappears somewhere in the second act, once Lange gets more to do. Bill Murray (in an uncredited, main supporting role) at least provides some continuity, which not even director Pollack (who also acts as Hoffman’s agent) gets to do. The conclusion of the movie is this swirl of contrivances, all forcefully introduced earlier in the picture, and no one who should be there for it has a scene. Tootsie just ignores the previous couple hours to get the coda to work.

And it does. Tootsie does, despite all the narrative problems and missed opportunities and dropped characters, come through for the finish. It helps having Owen Roizman’s photography, it helps being shot in New York City, it needs stars Hoffman and Lange. No matter what story problems, Tootsie never fails its actors. Even with it’s Pollack–Tootsie, the film, never fails Pollack, the actor, even if Pollack, the director, doesn’t quite have the film under control. Pollack’s got a great rant towards the end.

I’ll start from the bottom of the cast and work up just because I’m not really sure what I’m going to say about Hoffman yet.

George Gaynes is hilarious as this lech actor on the soap opera where Hoffman gets his job (as a woman). Gaynes just has to be a believable buffoon, but he does it with such ease, he calms Tootsie a bit. It never seems too extreme just because Gaynes’s so sturdy. He tempers it, along with Dabney Coleman. Coleman’s the jerk director of the soap. He’s also dating Lange. He also doesn’t have a big enough part in the story during the second half. Coleman’s still good though. He’s got the right energy–and right buffoonery–to keep it going.

Charles Durning is about the only actor who doesn’t get anything to do overall. He gets a lot to do in the story, he’s just poorly written. He’s Lange’s dad, who gets a crush on Hoffman when Hoffman’s “in character” as the female actor. It’s a sitcom foil, which wastes Durning; there’s also some continuity issues regarding Durning’s supportive dad when Lange’s character is initially introduced as an alcoholic because of being an orphan? Maybe I missed some exposition, but I was paying attention.

Murray’s good. He’s dry, he’s funny, he’s Hoffman’s conscience if Hoffman had a somewhat disinterested, bemused conscience. He’s present through most of the film, though, which is important. Most other characters just evaporate when the story doesn’t need them. Tootsie keeps Murray around even when it doesn’t.

Now, Teri Garr. She’s great. She also gets one good scene and it’s after the movie’s been ignoring her for an hour. It’s not a great part, either. She’s such a function in the script, she and Hoffman’s subplot literally kicks off just because his particular lie to her. Any other lie and it would’ve been fine. But her great scene is great. It’s a shame she’s not around more.

The same sort of goes for Jessica Lange, who shares the same space in the film as Garr, at least until Garr leaves. Then Lange gets to be around and sometimes she gets stuff to do, sometimes she just gets to sit around. Lange’s best acting moments are far superior to the script’s moments for her as an actor. Pollack works on directing Lange more than anyone else in the film.

Including Hoffman, who Pollack sort of lets do his own thing, to great success. Hoffman’s performance, as an example of comedy Method acting, is outstanding. There’s not much of a role past the MacGuffin–Pollack relies way too heavily on montages after a certain point, including a completely nonsensical one–but it’s an outstanding performance. The film positions Hoffman front and center, then transforms him into his new role–an actor playing this female actor–on screen. It’s awesome. It also is nowhere near enough to fix the script problems because Tootsie’s a fairly shallow movie overall.

And it shouldn’t be. There’s so much potential, not just for Hoffman, but for everyone in the cast. Lange, Garr, Murray, Coleman… okay, not Durning, but everyone else and a lot with them. And maybe even Durning if the film remembered Lange’s alcoholism subplot instead of forgetting it immediately.

Tootsie’s all right. It should be better, it could’ve been a lot worse. It’s well made, has a nice pace, has a nice Dave Grusin score–and a nice original song from Stephen Bishop–and some phenomenal acting. Hoffman and Lange are excellent and Garr ought to be. She just doesn’t have enough material. Because Tootsie’s a tad thin.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sydney Pollack; screenplay by Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal, based on a story by Don McGuire and Gelbart; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Peter S. Larkin; produced by Pollack and Dick Richards; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Dustin Hoffman (Michael Dorsey), Jessica Lange (Julie Nichols), Teri Garr (Sandy Lester), Bill Murray (Jeff Slater), Dabney Coleman (Ron Carlisle), Sydney Pollack (George Fields), George Gaynes (John Van Horn), Doris Belack (Rita Marshall), and Charles Durning (Les Nichols).


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