Category Archives: 1986

Malcolm (1986, Nadia Tass)

Malcolm has strange plotting. The film runs just ninety minutes—like you don’t really believe that official ninety minute runtime and it doesn’t feel like they’re rounding up from eighty-nine either. The film’s light and it seems to be coming from the drama. There really isn’t any. There’s charm instead. Almost cuteness.

The title Malcolm is Colin Friels, a thirty-ish Autistic man (though the film never describes his diagnosis or even if anyone understands he’s got one—1986 after all) who lives alone since his mother’s died. He’s a mechanical genius with a fascination about Melbourne’s trams. He even works for the trams for a while… but off-screen. The movie opens with him getting fired for building his own one-person tram. Strapped for cash, he has to bring in a lodger. He takes the first one who comes to see the room–John Hargreaves.

At this point, Malcolm seems like it’s going to be about kindly neighborhood shop owner Beverley Phillips getting Friels to socially develop thanks to Hargreaves. It seems like it for about three minutes, which is a long time in Malcolm. But then Hargreaves brings home girlfriend Lindy Davies and she stays. Like a day after Hargreaves comes in. It isn’t clear why Hargreaves and Davies weren’t just looking for a place together. Character motivations are not writer (and cinematographer) David Parker’s strong suit. Neither is the cinematography, just to get it out of the way. Malcolm has very flat cinematography. The film’s able to get through the flat lighting and the script’s absence of characters’ ground situations because of director Tass. She’s okay with composition, but she’s great at directing her actors. Friels, Davies, and Hargreaves all turn in these fantastic performances and, along with the mood (which is the script, is the direction), make Malcolm work. Even though both Friels and Davies kind of get the story focus shaft. It instead concentrates on Hargreaves, which doesn’t make any sense because the whole point of his life being different than before is specifically because of what Friels and Davies are now doing in it.

Hargreaves is really good. He gives the best performance in the film, which he shouldn’t, but he isn’t able to transcend the script. The part isn’t good enough. The closest the movie gets to dramatics often involves Hargreaves saying something shitty about Friels behind his back and Davies giving him hell for it, leading to offscreen bonding between Hargreaves and Friels. Eventually Hargreaves has some personal growth and isn’t a dick to Friels anymore but we sure don’t get to see it. There’s the potential for character development, then there’s a jump ahead past it. Multiple times. Parker and Tass are too obvious in what they’re not addressing. They draw attention to what they’re not doing and then still manage to be too deliberate in how they showcase the gadgetry.

After Davies moves in, Friels starts making different gadgets and machines to impress Hargreaves because apparently Friels thinks he’s cool. Or something. We never find out because whenever anyone wants to have a serious talk with Friels, they do it offscreen so Parker doesn’t have to write the dialogue. After the first act, Friels basically becomes a (necessary) third wheel in Davies and Hargreaves’s story, which is mostly from Davies’s perspective because Hargreaves doesn’t do anything interesting on his own. Not even when he does things on his own; the movie can’t make them seem interesting.

Hargreaves has a scummy bar friend—an astonishingly third-billed Chris Haywood, who gets about four minutes on screen and never a close-up. Haywood’s just around for when Hargreaves needs to do something away from Friels and Davies. Until Hargreaves reaches the point he realizes he’s got to grow and then he just runs away to different areas of the house.

Another success of Tass’s direction is the lack of claustrophobia, even when there ought to be.

Whenever Friels shows Hargreaves a new gadget, it’s an action set piece. They’re really cool sequences, often involving remote controlled cars or objects. Editor Ken Sallows always cuts the action well. They’re the film’s pay-off moments and they work.

But they really shouldn’t be the film’s pay-off moments. They supersede the characters. For the finale the actors don’t even get to participate in the big action sequence.

It’s a great sequence though and when the actors do come back, they’re able to make up for the lost time goodwill-wise.

Malcolm doesn’t succeed in spite of itself, it just doesn’t aim high enough. It also adjusts its aim lower as the film goes on. Its potential deflates as it goes.

But it’s really cute, really charming, often rather funny. Excellent performances from Hargreaves, Friels, and Davies. Nice score from Simon Jeffres.

Just wish the script were more interested in the characters.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Nadia Tass; written and photographed by David Parker; edited by Ken Sallows; music by Simon Jeffes; produced by Tass and Parker; released by Hoyts Distribution.

Starring Colin Friels (Malcolm), Lindy Davies (Judith), John Hargreaves (Frank), Beverley Phillips (Mrs. T), Judith Stratford (Jenny), and Chris Haywood (Willy).


This post is part of the Blizzard of Oz Blogathon hosted by Quiggy of the Midnite Drive-In.

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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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