Category Archives: 1986

Sid and Nancy (1986, Alex Cox)

It takes a while for anyone in Sid & Nancy to be likable. Even after they’re likable, it’s not like they’re particularly sympathetic. They’re tragic, sure, which is director Cox and cowriter Abbe Wool’s point, but entirely unpleasant to spend time with. The film has a bookend–Sid (Gary Oldman) being taken into police custody for murdering–at that point an unseen–Nancy (Chloe Webb). Oldman makes a visual impression, but kind of gets overshadowed by Cox’s New York cops. They’re all outlandish caricatures, including their costuming, which clashes with Oldman’s punk rock chic.

After the bookend, the action goes back in time to London, with Oldman hanging out with Andrew Schofield (as Sex Pistol’s vocalist Johnny Rotten–the film doesn’t offer any exposition to set up a viewer not at least somewhat familiar with The Sex Pistols) and meeting Webb. Webb’s an American punk rock enthusiast–and heroin addict–with a grating voice and an obnoxious demeanor. But she’s being obnoxious to Oldman and Schofield, so it’s hard to fault her. Oldman’s a moron, arguably–as the film starts–Schofield’s flunky. Meanwhile Schofield comes off as a pretentious poser (needless to say no one thought much of Sid & Nancy’s historical accuracy, not its surviving subjects or even the filmmakers).

But Oldman soon becomes sympathetic to Webb and ends up, after some misadventures, getting high with her. From then on, they’re always together. Much to everyone else’s displeasure; well, not band manager David Hayman, who encourages Oldman’s behavior for the media attention. But much to Schofield’s. Sex is anti-punk so Schofield is anti-sex. Until they’re strung out too long, Webb and Oldman like the sex.

Most of the first half of Sid & Nancy is Oldman and Webb getting high, trying to find money for getting high, getting mad about not finding money to get high (Hayman apparently has Oldman on an allowance without a heroin allotment), Oldman messing up band obligations, Webb pissing off Schofield and others with her demands (which become Oldman’s demands, only he’s way too high most of the time to put much force behind them), Webb and Oldman fighting (usually over drugs, sometimes over the band). The dramatic result comes from the actors in scene more than anything in the script. The intensity, which sometimes means Oldman being almost completely inert, or Webb hitting a new level of annoying, propels the film. As a director, Cox oscillates between indifference and dislike for his protagonists; friction keeps the film in motion.

Until the Sex Pistols go on their U.S. tour–leaving Webb in London–and Cox gets a jumpstart, starting with the first shot of the U.S. tour. He finally finds something cinematic to chew on. The U.S. tour itself, the visual juxtaposing of English punk and cowboy hat wearing Americans, Oldman freaking out on payphone in the middle of Americana… it all becomes visual foreshadowing of the second half. The band breaks up on tour; Oldman and Webb head to Paris for a bit, back to London for a bit, then end up in New York. She becomes his manager. They visit her family. Sid & Nancy gets these moments of absurd hilarity, a pressure release as it tracks its protagonists’ descent. Cox doesn’t glamorize their heroin dependency (he does very little exploring it). As it becomes more and more clear Oldman and Webb can’t survive–they quite clearly can’t take care of themselves–Cox focuses in tighter on the two characters and their relationship. It’s always in a nightmarish setting, but often dreamy.

Oldman’s performance gets better and better as the film progresses. At the start, thanks to the narrative, Schofield overshadows him, then Webb overshadows him. After the tour sequence, when Oldman appears to get some agency, he’s always the narrative’s driving force. If not in scene, than in performance. Even when it’s Webb’s scene, like when they visit her grandparents and extended family and are way too punk rock for the late seventies suburbs. Webb gets to be flashy in those scenes, but they’re all built around Oldman’s eventual contribution.

The second half descent also has the film’s most beautifully edited and realized cinematic sequences, always set to music, sometimes (apparently) diegetic music, sometimes not. Roger Deakins’s photography is always phenomenal, but it’s often phenomenal in its dreariness. In the grand cinema sequences, Deakins never changes the film’s visual tone, he, Cox, and editor David Martin just find a way to hold the moment long enough the intensity burns through the dreary. But not visually, obviously. Cox and Martin are aware, the whole time, how to control the mood (and Deakins’s photography’s affect on it) through length of scene, length of shot. They just don’t start doing much with that knowledge until the second half.

And once Sid & Nancy opens itself ot cinematic splendor, there’s always a subtle impatience until the next sequence. The first half is so light on them (and so frequently narratively unpleasant), it causes some de facto resentment. Cox could’ve done more with the film and didn’t.

Oldman’s great, Webb’s (annoying as all hell and) great, Schofield’s great (regardless of historical accuracy). None of the supporting performances are bad and there’s a large supporting cast, but they just don’t have much to do. Or they don’t have much to do for long. Sometimes getting out faster is better. Sy Richardson, for instance, has a great scene as Oldman and Webb’s methadone caseworker. But it’s a scene. Meanwhile, Hayman’s around so much without any character development, he suffers. Ditto Xander Berkeley (as Oldman and Webb’s New York drug dealer) and Courtney Love. The more scenes they have, the more it matters they’re caricatures.

Transfixing lead performances, excellent direction, great cinematography, sublime music (original score and soundtrack)… Sid & Nancy is a technical marvel. It just should’ve been more of one, which matters since Cox isn’t invested in the narrative.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alex Cox; written by Cox and Abbe Wool; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by David Martin; music by Dan Wool; production designers, Lynda Burbank, J. Rae Fox, and Andrew McAlpine; produced by Eric Fellner; released by The Samuel Goldwyn Company.

Starring Gary Oldman (Sid), Chloe Webb (Nancy), Andrew Schofield (John), David Hayman (Malcolm), Anne Lambton (Linda), Perry Benson (Paul), Tony London (Steve), Debby Bishop (Phoebe), Courtney Love (Gretchen), Xander Berkeley (Bowery Snax), and Sy Richardson (Methadone Caseworker).


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Hoosiers (1986, David Anspaugh)

Hoosiers rouses. It rouses through a perfectly measured combination of narrative, editing, composition and photography, and music. In that order, least to greatest. There’s no way to discount Jerry Goldsmith’s score and the importance of his music during the basketball game montages. They’d be beautifully cut and vividly photographed, but they wouldn’t rouse without that Goldsmith music. In the second half of the film, the music replaces Gene Hackman as the star presence. The film extends its narrative distance from the cast (Hackman least, but still Hackman) to emphasis the narrative effectiveness of montage. And it works. Hoosiers rouses.

The almost exactly halfway adjustment in narrative distance is a smooth one. The film has been focusing on Hackman’s acclamation to a new job in a new town and then that plot comes to a close. Then it’s time for basketball. The film–and ostensibly Hackman–have been waiting for it to be basketball time. The distractions are gone; director Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo have precisely plotted out all the subplot resolutions. Hoosiers isn’t a particularly short film. It’s six minutes shy of two hours so halfway is about an hour; meaning the second half, the mostly basketball half, is an hour too.

It’s particularly impressive since there’s zero exposition about what’s going to happen in the second half, based on Indiana state high school basketball playoff systems from the mid-twentieth century. Pizzo’s narrative logic for Hoosiers isn’t something the audience needs to worry about. First, they’ve got to worry about Hackman. Then, they’ve got to watch some basketball.

The film opens with Hackman arriving in a (very) small Indiana town. Old pal and now school principal Sheb Wooley has hired Hackman to coach basketball (and teach civics, which doesn’t turn out to be a subplot). The townsfolk are suspicious of outsiders and don’t want Hackman coaching. They want Chelcie Ross, whose part is small but it’s one of those excellent risible asshat Chelcie Ross performances.

Barbara Hershey is a fellow teacher. She thinks Hackman is just going to try to get her erstwhile ward, Maris Valainis, to play basketball again. She doesn’t want Valainis to play (the previous coach died–before the movie starts–and it profoundly affects Valainis). Hershey also doesn’t like basketball, which gets more attention than Valainis’s arc. He’s present a lot, but he’s an enigma. Or he would be an enigma, if the movie were interested in the interiority of its characters. Hoosiers demands they have interiority, either through performance or filmic presentation (though none of the performances in the film, even from the amateur cast members, are bad–Anspaugh is outstanding with his actors). It just doesn’t want to show that interiority. It’s not interested.

Not while there’s basketball to be played.

Though Hershey’s basketball arc could be seen as the audience’s basketball arc. During one of their early bickering scenes, Hackman tries to get Hershey to understand the magic of the game. Hoosiers, in its second half, creates that magic (for Hershey and the audience).

So the first half is Hackman’s problems. The ones he makes for himself, the ones the townsfolk make for him. The one the basketball team makes for him; specifically the players. Even though the players are in most of the movie, only two of them have actual subplots. Valainis’s gets left offscreen because he’s an enigma (he and guardian Hershey don’t even share a shot together). David Neidorf gets one as an extension of Dennis Hopper’s subplot. Hopper’s the former high school basketball star now town drunk who Hackman tries to reform.

Some of the other players get little things. Steve Hollar is the one who pisses Hackman off the most frequently. Scott Summers is the religious one who Hackman eventually finds lovable–Hoosiers has its Americana, but it keeps it at a certain distance. Like it’s pretty and all but don’t get it too close. There’s probably some cut material with Hackman on that arc (Anspaugh and Pizzo’s version runs an hour longer), but what’s left is a nice recurring theme in the montage sequences.

The film ably pivots between its various pacing speeds. Once it gets comfortable relying on the montages, Hoosiers stays with them. It slows down a bit for the Hackman and Hershey subplot, which is nicely, gently done. Ditto the Hopper redemption slash recovery arc. The film slows down for those two. Otherwise, it’s got to fit in those montages.

Hopper’s great. Hershey’s good. Hackman’s great. Hackman gets the least showy role in the entire film. Even when it turns out he likes to get into screaming matches with referees, he’s still not showy. The film’s rising actions are muted; Hoosiers’s narrative distance is something else.

The production is outstanding. Carroll Timothy O’Meara’s cutting, Fred Murphy’s photography, David Nichols’s production design. All phenomenal.

Hoosiers is a fantastic film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Anspaugh; written by Angelo Pizzo; director of photography, Fred Murphy; edited by Carroll Timothy O’Meara; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, David Nichols; produced by Carter DeHaven and Pizzo; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Gene Hackman (Norman Dale), Barbara Hershey (Myra Fleener), Dennis Hopper (Shooter Flatch), Maris Valainis (Jimmy Chitwood), David Neidorf (Everett Flatch), Brad Long (Buddy Walker), Steve Hollar (Rade Butcher), Fern Persons (Opal Fleener), Brad Boyle (Whit Butcher), Wade Schenck (Ollie McLellan), Kent Poole (Merle Webb), Scott Summers (Strap Purl), Chelcie Ross (George Walker), and Sheb Wooley (Cletus Summers).


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House (1986, Steve Miner)

House has got technical failures, acting failures, plotting failures (sort of), but it also has the mystery of William Katt’s hair. In some scenes it’s the standard Katt blond, but in other scenes, it’s brown. Sometimes it’s dark brown. Sometimes it looks like a perm. And it never looks like a perm when Katt’s been wet, because–of course–whenever Katt gets wet, his hair’s immediately dry the next shot.

Sadly, the mystery of Katt’s hair color isn’t part of the film. It almost seems like it might be, when Katt decides not to finish brushing his teeth but to instead go investigate the haunted closet in the haunted house he’s living in. It’s all very silly. And not in a good way.

For a while, it seems like House might be silly in a good way. It’s never funny and it’s never scary. Problematic as the film’s supposedly a horror comedy. Or a comedic horror. Katt can’t act comedy, Miner can’t direct comedy, screenwriter Ethan Wiley technically does in fact write comedy, but it’s so bad co-star George Wendt can’t even make it work. In fact, he seems mildly confused at the film’s inability to land a joke.

Wendt’s still awful, regardless of his confusion. The more lines you have in House, the less likely you are to escape unscathed. A handful of actors make it out without embarrassing themselves. Mostly. And sort of Kay Lenz. Watching House, you feel bad for Kay Lenz. She’s part of the “joke,” which is kind of ick since she’s Katt’s ex-wife and they broke up because their son disappeared because the House ate him. Though, really, maybe it isn’t why she left Katt. Maybe I had already glazed over. Because they’re both kind of great considering their son disappeared. Lenz’s a successful nighttime soap star and Katt’s a horror author. Except he’s trying to write a book about his time in Vietnam with Bull from “Night Court” and Kevin Costner’s dad from Field of Dreams.

Sorry. The mind wanders when watching House; you can’t help but wish you were watching almost anything else with the actors involved.

Anyway, once the haunted house starts taunting Katt with his missing son, there’s a lot of Katt emoting. Some of it with blond hair, some of it with brown hair. Katt’s not good at the emoting. Katt’s not good at much, though he is able to wear a V-neck sweater down to his belly button and make it seem reasonable for his character. V-necks are at the beginning when House seems like it might be dumb fun.

But Katt trades in those deep v-necks for military fatigues. Starting when he rigs a bunch of camera to photograph the haunted house but then somehow never takes any pictures, not even ones of not haunted things. Wiley’s script has a lot of dumb moments. You don’t have to think hard to be thinking too hard for House.

Like when Katt calls the FBI to check in on his missing son and the FBI tells him to stop calling the CIA too.

Actually, the movie doesn’t start off with much promise of dumb fun. I’m wrong. Michael Ensign, in the third or fourth scene, kind of ruins any potential for fun. He’s desperately unfunny and the scene needs to be funny, because Katt can’t play straight man. Katt’s terrible when he mugs through a “comedy” sequence, but he’s even worse when he’s trying to be reasonable.

There’s nothing reasonable about House.

Also Katt’s really bad at his timing. Some of it is no doubt on Miner and editor Michael N. Knue, but a lot of it is Katt. He’s always late reacting to action or other actors.

Also bad is Harry Manfredini’s score. And Mac Ahlberg’s photography. Even if Katt really was dying his hair throughout filming and it’s not just Ahlberg shooting it poorly, the film would still be shot poorly.

The special effects design is good. The execution is iffy. Miner doesn’t know how to showcase any of it. Because it’s a bad movie–poorly made, poorly acted, poorly everything. Miner’s direction is a bust.

I haven’t even got time for the terrible Vietnam flashbacks. They’re also dumb. Because Wiley’s script is dumb. And the acting is bad. And the directing is worse. And they’re all obviously on sound stages because there’s never any sky, though who knows… it’s not like Miner knows how to compose a shot on location either.

As a horror movie, House gets a fail. As a comedy, it gets a fail. It’s never funny, it’s never scary. Successful comedy probably wouldn’t have helped (who’d have done it–just Wendt, I suppose–because never Katt), but successful horror might have been nice. Some danger would’ve been fine.

A lot of things would’ve been fine but no. House is never fine (much less very, very, very fine).

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Miner; screenplay by Ethan Wiley, based on a story by Fred Dekker; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by Michael K. Knue; music by Harry Manfredini; production designer, Gregg Fonseca; produced by Sean S. Cunningham; released by New World Pictures.

Starring William Katt (Roger Cobb), George Wendt (Harold Gorton), Richard Moll (Big Ben), Kay Lenz (Sandy Sinclair), Mary Stavin (Tanya), Michael Ensign (Chet Parker), Susan French (Aunt Elizabeth), and Dwier Brown (Lieutenant).


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The B.R.A.T. Patrol (1986, Mollie Miller)

The B.R.A.T. Patrol is about a group of kids on an airforce base who discover one of the MPs is selling military hardware to literal junk yard arms dealers. None of the adults believe them because it’s a “Wonderful World of Disney” movie and there are rules. There are limits and there are rules. B.R.A.T. Patrol frequently bumps into the limits–if director Miller just had wider establishing shots, the movie would have some scale. But it plays well with the rules. Miller and writers Chris “Yes, the ‘X-Files’” Carter and Michael Patrick Goodman never lose track of the main kids, even when some of them get crap duty.

Nia Long gets the most crap duty, but then she gets to be part of the awesome chase sequence at the end. She gets to ride the dirt bikes. She doesn’t get to do anything cool on the dirt bikes, but then neither does Jason Presson, who kind of has the biggest role. He’s the kid who doesn’t just want to go along with what lead kid Sean Astin says. Sean Astin–and his stunt bike rider–are the only ones who get to do cool things during the dirt bike sequence.

There’s probably a lot to unpack in “Wonderful World of Disney” episodes. Let’s just say Astin is the William Shatner of the bunch, only Miller doesn’t direct a performance out of him and so his deliveries are all flat. He’s an Eddie Haskall type, from the era of rehabilitating the trope. He should be funny, but he’s not. He’s not even mean in his callousness. He’s just got a role to play.

At least Presson tries a little. His part’s terribly written–B.R.A.T. Patrol has adults but no parents and Presson gets the subplot about being afraid of punishment. Fail to stop an arms deal? Get stabbed? Presson’s parents might ground him. Without the parents, there’s nothing to back up the fear. And Miller doesn’t even try to help with it. She’s got a hands off approach with the actors, which does work to her favor. Since the teleplay has so little for the other three kids–Long, Dylan Kussman, and Dustin Berkovitz–seeing the kids mug without trying to mug passes the time. It gives them some personality, even if the script doesn’t.

Astin doesn’t have any personality. He’s just supposed to be obnoxious, but adorable obnoxious. Versus Joe Wright as the leader of the base’s Young Marines. He’s just supposed to be obnoxious without being adorable. Watching Astin and Wright bicker is one of the movie’s most frequent irritations. Once it’s established the Young Marines aren’t actual threats, the interactions are increasingly tedious. Wright and Billy Jayne are trying to stop Astin and company from winning a “Youth Service Award,” which Astin and company don’t seem to know anything about.

They’re stopping the arms dealers for the right reasons, not to get any awards.

Tim Thomerson is the MP who secretly thinks Astin and the gang are all right. Brian Keith is the base commander who’s flummoxed by children’s behavior. Keith’s fine. Thomerson’s almost better; the first act implies he might get an actual part, but he doesn’t.

And Stephen Lee is good at as the dirty MP. You believe he wants to harm Astin, making him an actual threat. Same goes for junk yard arms dealer John Quade. B.R.A.T. Patrol’s thriller thread is pretty darn effective.

Good photography from Fred J. Koenekamp, even if Miller needs to open up the establishing shots more. It’s a Disney TV movie, it only has to look so good but Koenekamp is far above the bare minimum. Fine editing from Barbara Palmer Dixon and Glenn Farr. The editing gets good for the last third, even if the script dawdles.

The B.R.A.T. Patrol is sort of racing with itself. Can the movie end before Astin hits critical mass and becomes too obnoxious. No. But it does acknowledge Astin’s too obnoxious. That acknowledgement is something.

Wait, can’t forget the production design. Ray Storey’s production design is outstanding. Since Miller’s establishing shots are so problematic, the locations never get established. But the way Storey’s able to match the actual air base exteriors with the plot set pieces? Outstanding.

But, yeah, B.R.A.T. Patrol is fine. Enough.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mollie Miller; written by Chris Carter and Michael Patrick Goodman; “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” created by Walt Disney; director of photography, Fred J. Koenekamp; edited by Barbara Palmer Dixon and Glenn Farr; music by Jonathan Tunick; production designer, Ray Storey; produced by Mark H. Ovitz; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Sean Astin (Leonard), Jason Presson (McGeorge), Nia Long (Darla), Dylan Kussman (Bug), Dustin Berkovitz (Squeak), Joe Wright (Newmeyer), Billy Jayne (Whittle), Tim Thomerson (Maj. Hackett), Stephen Lee (Phillips), John Quade (Knife), and Brian Keith (Gen. Newmeyer).


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