Category Archives: 1987

Making Mr. Right (1987, Susan Seidelman)

Making Mr. Right feels a little incomplete. It’s not entirely unexpected as Floyd Byars and Laurie Frank’s script plays loose with subplots–even after the film forecasts its basic structure, it loses track of a lot, and some essential scenes happen offscreen. The subsequent reveals in the narrative (to other characters and the audience) never play for enough surprise value to cover the missing moments.

One has to wonder what got cut.

Director Seidelman keeps things moving over the absences, having structured the picture into two separate parts in the first act. Ann Magnuson runs an ad agency, has a crappy congressman for a boyfriend and client (a delightfully bland Ben Masters); she’s also got a somewhat annoying family and friend situation intruding. Then she gets a contract to promote an android in time to get Congress to continue funding. John Malkovich is the android and the inventor.

The film keeps Magnuson’s life bisected. Even when Malkovich, in either of his roles, crosses over into Magnuson’s personal life–her misadventures with the android, even out on the town, are work stuff–but even when Malkovich is present in the personal life, Seidelman and editor Andrew Mondshein keep it somewhat separate. For example, Malkovich doesn’t really have any scenes with Magnuson and anyone else (outside Masters); but he’s present in some of the scenes. It’s just not somewhere Seidelman takes the film.

And it gets to be a problem in the third act when all of a sudden Malkovich has got a character arc of his own. As the android. The human inventor Malkovich has a second act subplot where Laurie Metcalf is trying to put a ring on it, which just ends up jumpstart Malkovich the android’s character development only to abruptly end it. Making Mr. Right runs almost 100 minutes and feels like a good twenty minutes are missing.

One of the film’s complete subplots–which the film contrives to intersect with the main plot to end the second act–involves Magnuson’s friend Glenne Headly. Headly’s having marriage problems and bunks up with Magnuson, ostensibly to give Magnuson someone to play off at home but the Headly subplot’s too good and overshadows Magnuson’s romance-induced ennui. Headly’s married to soap opera star Hart Bochner–who initially shows up onscreen in his cheesy soap with absurd hair–and Seidelman gets a lot out of having Headly around. Magnuson never gets to be silly, just frantic and stressed. Headly gets to have some fun.

Making Mr. Right is all about its actors–Magnuson, Malkovich, Headly–with Seidelman striving to facilitate as best she can. Malkovich and Magnuson both get some degree of physical comedy and they’re great at it. Malkovich plays the android with more soul than the inventor. The inventor part Malkovich does stiff and deadpan. The android is absurd and sincere. There are some scenes between Malkovich’s two characters–Magnuson drives past a theater showing The Parent Trap–but the film avoids them. Malkovich is only able to get one of his parts out of caricature as a result. He chooses well, but with some more time, who knows what Malkovich and Seidelman could get done.

Magnuson has a similar situation of underutilization, also because of the script. After all the intricate setup, Byars and Frank don’t keep subplots moving in the background. At least, not enough of them to compensate for the changes in the film’s narrative flow.

Making Mr. Right is a solid comedy. Great performances, some great scenes; overall, it’s a moderate success. But with a better third act, thanks to Magnuson, Malkovich, and Seidelman, it could’ve gone further.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Susan Seidelman; written by Floyd Byars and Laurie Frank; director of photography, Edward Lachman; edited by Andrew Mondshein; music by Chaz Jankel; production designer, Barbara Ling; produced by Joel Tuber and Mike Wise; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Ann Magnuson (Frankie Stone), John Malkovich (Dr. Jeff Peters / Ulysses), Glenne Headly (Trish), Ben Masters (Steve Marcus), Polly Bergen (Estelle Stone), Harsh Nayyar (Dr. Ramdas), Laurie Metcalf (Sandy), and Hart Bochner (Don).


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The Untouchables (1987, Brian De Palma)

There are few constants in The Untouchables. Leading man Kevin Costner comes in after nemesis Robert De Niro (as Al Capone) opens the movie; only the Chicago setting and Ennio Morricone’s grandiose, bombastic, omnipresent score are unabated. Director De Palma embraces the film’s various phases, sometimes through Stephen H. Burum’s photography, sometimes just through how much he lets the actors chew at the scenery. In his deftest move (with the actors, anyway), the only ones De Palma never lets get chewy are Costner and Sean Connery. With Connery, it’s a wonderful disconnect from what could be a very showy, chewy role. With Costner, it’s more because David Mamet’s screenplay has him so absurdly earnest, the part doesn’t have the teeth for it.

Costner’s the protagonist–and when Untouchables fully embraces itself as an action picture in the last third, it’s Costner leading the charge–but Connery and De Niro get the best parts. Connery’s an aged, failed, albeit mostly honest, beat cop who can’t help but bond with earnest treasury agent Eliot Ness (Costner). Even when De Palma, Burum, and Morricone turn up the melodrama on Connery, he stays reserved. His is the most honest part in Mamet’s script, whether in his counseling of Costner and the rest of the team (Charles Martin Smith and Andy Garcia) or butting heads with cop pal Richard Bradford. De Niro, on the other hand, plays Capone like Robert De Niro playing Al Capone. It’s an exaggerated performance in an exaggerated film, only De Palma doesn’t direct the scenes for De Niro’s performance so much as around it.

The Untouchables is weird that way. It all comes together, but isn’t fluid outside that Morricone score. And Chicago, of course. It makes wonderful use of its locations. The score and setting glue the consecutive pieces of the film together, which is particularly helpful since Mamet repeats himself over and over when it comes to exposition. Most of Smith’s part–outside his introduction, action sequences, and occasional cute moments–is saying the same things, over and over, about getting Capone on his taxes. And he talks about it in his first scene.

Mamet and De Palma are also real bad about Costner’s family life; after introducing Patricia Clarkson and doing a little establishing, she’s pretty much offscreen to the point it’s not even clear she’s pregnant. The pregnancy only becomes a plot detail after she gives. While she’s in the movie throughout–she’s how Mamet and De Palma introduce Costner in fact–she doesn’t have any lines.

Actually, besides Clarkson, there might only be three other speaking roles for female actors. And each of them only get one scene. Untouchables is all about the boys. They all talk about how nice it is to be married. It’s one of Mamet’s main recurring dialogue motifs; De Palma doesn’t seem to put much stock in it though. Costner and company, in their battle for good against De Niro and his goons, are separate from the goings-on of the regular world.

All of the acting is fine, some of it is better. De Palma seems to know he can get away with exaggerated performances because nothing’s going to be louder than that Morricone music. Or main goon Billy Drago’s white suit.

Now, while Morricone’s score is grandiose and melodramatic, it’s still got a lot of nuance and sincere emotional impact. Costner, Connery, Garcia, and Smith immediately establish themselves as a team. De Palma doesn’t spend a lot of time just relaxing with the characters, but there’s some of it and a sense of camaraderie permeates. It’s in stark contrast to De Niro, who exists to terrorize, whether it be regular people or his own flunkies.

In the first two thirds of the picture, De Palma’s more concerned with the drama. There’s some action, but he’s not focusing on it as much as where it occurs or how it perturbs the plot. In the last third, however, De Palma’s all about the action. Yes, how its affecting Costner–and Costner’s character development–is a thing, but character is secondary to style. And it’s some masterful style. The Untouchables is solid until it all of a sudden becomes exceptional for a while. De Palma, Burum, Morricone, and editors Gerald B. Greenberg and Bill Pankow do some fantastic work finishing up the film.

It’s a fine film, succeeding when it almost shouldn’t–Costner’s earnestness ought to be too much, it’s not; De Niro’s excess ought to be too much, it’s not. Morricone’s score ought to be too much. It’s not. Instead, it’s essential in making The Untouchables work.

It and that Chicago location shooting, of course.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Brian De Palma; screenplay by David Mamet, suggested by the book by Oscar Fraley and Eliot Ness; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Gerald B. Greenberg and Bill Pankow; music by Ennio Morricone; produced by Art Linson; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kevin Costner (Ness), Sean Connery (Malone), Charles Martin Smith (Wallace), Andy Garcia (Stone), Robert De Niro (Capone), Richard Bradford (Dorsett), Patricia Clarkson (Catherine), and Billy Drago (Nitti).


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Perry Mason: The Case of the Scandalous Scoundrel (1987, Christian I. Nyby II)

Perry Mason: The Case of the Scandalous Scoundrel is a bit disappointing. It’s got a really lame script from Anthony Spinner. Spinner doesn’t have a good mystery, he doesn’t write characters well, he writes dialogue something awful. So there are no expectations from the script. However, Scoundrel has a great cast. A great cast who often can even get water from the stony script.

So it’s a bit disappointing. It’s kind of pleasant to watch, mostly because Barbara Hale has this secret admirer C plot and it gives her something to do. And Raymond Burr’s got some fine moments. Director Nyby doesn’t direct the scenes well–Burr’s fine moments, I mean–but he’s not disruptive. Burr still gets the moment, just not as effectively as he could have.

And some of Nyby’s direction is solid. If it’s interiors and not back and forth dialogue, he does some pretty darn good work for a TV movie. Everything else is a bit of a mess. Not always a big mess, but definitely some kind of one. He shoots terrible coverage.

Now, the cast. William Katt’s romancing defendant Susan Wilder. She’s not good, but she’s not bad. Morgan Brittany is bad. Other than those two performances, everything is great. Yaphet Kotto’s an ex-army general, Wings Hauser’s his sidekick. They’re both good, but Hauser’s actually awesome. Good enough even Nyby figured out how to direct his scenes. George Grizzard’s Brittany’s suffering husband. He’s good. René Enríquez’s a corrupt banker. He’s good. Robert Guillaume’s a loathsome tabloid king. He’s not so much good as it’s really cool to see him play loathsome. He revels in it. And Eugene Butler is excellent as Guillaume’s sidekick. Lots of sidekicks in Scoundrel, probably because Spinner’s quite bad at plotting out a mystery.

Not a great hour for David Ogden Stiers. He and Burr don’t have any actual rapport, which just makes it seem like Stiers is a buffoon. It’s also a little strange to see James McEachin showing up as a dimwit instead of his regular cop part. It’s like there’s some joke and the viewer is left out.

Technically it’s fine, other than a weak score from the usually solid Dick DeBenedictis.

Scoundrel has a lot of good actors giving good performances from a terrible script. It’s engaging so long as the actors are weathering that script well. And Nyby certainly doesn’t help things. The handful of well-directed scenes can’t make up for the rest, especially not with the dumb script.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christian I. Nyby II; teleplay by Anthony Spinner, based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner; director of photography, Arch Bryant; edited by Carter DeHaven and David Solomon; music by Dick DeBenedictis; produced by Peter Katz; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Raymond Burr (Perry Mason), Barbara Hale (Della Street), William Katt (Paul Drake Jr.), Susan Wilder (Michelle Benti), Robert Guillaume (Harlan Wade), Eugene Butler (Nick Moretti), George Grizzard (Dr. Clayman), Morgan Brittany (Marianne Clayman), René Enríquez (Oscar Ortega), Wings Hauser (Capt. James Rivers), Yaphet Kotto (General Sorenson) and David Ogden Stiers (Michael Reston).


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Perry Mason: The Case of the Murdered Madam (1987, Ron Satlof)

I’m going to say something I never expected to say. Ron Satlof does a good job directing Perry Mason: The Case of the Murdered Madam. He’s a regular director on the series and he’s never directed one as well as this one. The showdown between Raymond Burr and guilty party is fantastic. Satlof does well, editors Carter DeHaven and David Solomon do well, composer Dick DeBenedictis does well. Satlof’s got some awkward moments throughout, but between the finale and some of the thriller sequences, Murdered Madam is perfectly acceptable. Often effective.

Occasionally the cast helps with the effective, occasionally not. Ann Jillian’s okay; she does great in the thriller stuff, so Satlof basically just has to showcase her and he does. Barbara Hale gets a little more to do this time. She’s good. James Noble’s a good suspect. Richard Portnow’s a good vile criminal. Jason Bernard’s all right. Doesn’t get enough to do, but he keeps things together as the police detective. And Daphne Ashbrook’s a fine female sidekick for William Katt.

I just said all the nice things because now it’s time for the not nice things. Vincent Baggetta gives a really strange and bad performance as Burr’s client. There’s a real disconnect between how he portrays the character and how the character’s supposed to connect with the viewer. It’s Perry Mason, we’re supposed to like the defendant because they’re innocent. Baggetta’s clearly innocent but it doesn’t matter. He’s kind of a tool. And Bill Macy’s weak as another suspect. He’s annoying in such a way it breaks the flow of the movie as much as the commercial breaks.

Finally, at least as the acting goes, David Ogden Stiers is getting way real bored. He doesn’t even seem to be trying anymore. He’s opposing council and just comes off as a stooge. It’s because he doesn’t get enough material.

Other than not evening out material correctly, Patricia Green’s script is okay. It’s a little too cute at times, but the actors often can pull it off–especially when it’s Hale and Burr–and there’s a strange lack of tension throughout. Maybe because Baggetta’s such a tool; he’s got nothing to do with his own case. Burr and company aren’t so much defending him as uncovering multiple conspiracies.

What Murdered Madam lacks in specific amusements, it makes up for with its adequateness. I’m sort of more impressed now than when I finished watching it; even if his direction isn’t great, I’m impressed with what Satlof did here. It’s kind of messy and he does succeed in giving it flow.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Satlof; teleplay by Patricia Green, based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner; director of photography, Arch Bryant; edited by Carter DeHaven and David Solomon; music by Dick DeBenedictis; produced by Peter Katz; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Raymond Burr (Perry Mason), Barbara Hale (Della Street), William Katt (Paul Drake Jr.), Vincent Baggetta (Tony Domenico), Ann Jillian (Suzanne), Daphne Ashbrook (Miranda Bonner), Jason Bernard (Sergeant Koslow), Anthony Geary (Steve Reynolds), Bill Macy (Richard Wilson), James Noble (Leonard Weeks), John Rhys-Davies (Edward Tremaine) and David Ogden Stiers (D.A. Michael Reston).


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