Tag Archives: Alan Oppenheimer

Westworld (1973, Michael Crichton)

Westworld is a regrettably bad film. It doesn’t start off with a lot of potential. Leads Richard Benjamin and James Brolin are wanting. But then writer-director Crichton starts doing these montages introducing the behind-the-scenes of the park.

Oh. Right. Westworld is about an amusement resort with humanoid robots. Benjamin and Brolin are guests. Benjamin’s not over his divorce, so he’s got to man up. Brolin’s a man of few words, less facial expression, and no mystery. Crichton’s direction of the actors in the first act should’ve been a clue for problems later on.

The behind-the-scenes procedural about the maintenance of the robots has a lot of potential. It eventually fails because the set is so poorly designed and Crichton and his cinematographer, Gene Polito, often shoot through walls. Everything looks like a set. Even when it shouldn’t, because Polito’s photography is so bad. And someone needed to explain head room to Crichton because he really doesn’t understand it.

Alan Oppenheimer plays the park supervisor. He’s okay. Okay is pretty good in Westworld. Benjamin is occasionally likable, but he’s never good. Crichton avoids him too much to ever give him the chance to be good or bad. When there’s the big chase scene–robot gunslinger Yul Brynner is out to kill Benjamin–Crichton sticks with Brynner for the first half. There’s a changeover to Benjamin after an atrociously executed ambush sequence where the footage between Benjamin and Brynner doesn’t match. It’s not just lighted differently, it’s obviously different locations because Polito and Crichton also don’t understand how depth works.

Westworld has a bunch of Western genre standards; Crichton executes them all poorly. And tediously. Every set piece in Westworld gets tedious. Crichton and editor David Bretherton can’t do the “action” sequences. They can almost do the mood sequences, when they’re showing the uncanny behind-the-scenes stuff. Then Fred Karlin’s music takes a turn for the worse and Crichton holds a shot too long and Polito’s lighting mistakes kill the verisimilitude. Westworld is a failing movie about something failing. Crichton has some great ideas. Not just for the story, but for set pieces. He just can’t execute them. He tries though. And it’s painful.

Karlin’s music is terrible. Set against Western tropes, it’s belligerently terrible. Crichton’s direction of the Western tropes is awful. It’s like he’s never seen a Western before. It’s singular, I suppose. It’s a singular way of directing action on an Old West set. It’s terrible too. Singular and terrible.

Around the halfway point, Crichton starts focusing more on Norman Bartold’s story. He doesn’t even get a name. But he’s guest in Medieval World, not Western World (Division Thirteen alert). It’s not like Bartold’s interesting–he’s trying to seduce multiple robot women without success–but Crichton still finds him more interesting than Brolin and Benjamin. And Crichton’s not wrong. They’re tiresome.

There’s a lot of future technology and Crichton does manage to showcase those effects well. He really does. It’s like forty-five good seconds of eighty-five minutes. But some of its dumb. Like when Brynner gets a visual upgrade and can see in super-pixelated vision. He can’t make out detail because the pixels are so big. Crichton does point of view with the computer visual stuff. It too kills the moment.

If there are any moments with Brynner. Crichton’s bad direction becomes clear when Brynner shows up. Along with Polito’s inability to match lighting between shots. But it’s kind of fun to pretend when Brynner’s smiling, it’s because his robot is evil. It doesn’t matter.

Because Westworld, even with killer robots and defenseless guests, has no stakes. Who cares if the guests are danger? Benjamin is divorced and no one cares. Brolin is so thin he doesn’t even have that story. Bartold maybe had an implied wife in the setup in the first act but not once Crichton decides he’s more amusing than Benjamin and Brolin. He doesn’t have a name. Oppenheimer doesn’t have a name. Dick Van Patten’s got a recurring cameo. But no name.

Westworld is like a disaster movie’s set pieces strung together. More should make it better but the film’s so terribly made, more would just be worse.

Worst of all, Westworld gets worse as it goes. It disappoints, continuously. And it’s not the story disappointing, it’s how badly Crichton directs the scenes.

Campy would help Westworld. Not much else would help, given Polito and Crichton’s risible composition choices, but camp might help.

Oh, and Majel Barrett’s good. She’s good. Ninety-nine percent of the rest isn’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Michael Crichton; director of photography, Gene Polito; edited by David Bretherton; music by Fred Karlin; produced by Paul N. Lazarus III; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Richard Benjamin (Peter Martin), James Brolin (John Blane), Norman Bartold (Medieval Knight), Alan Oppenheimer (Chief Supervisor), Dick Van Patten (Banker), Linda Gaye Scott (Arlette), Majel Barrett (Miss Carrie), Anne Randall (Daphne), and Yul Brynner (Gunslinger).


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Trancers 4: Jack of Swords (1994, David Nutter)

I’m not sure where to start with Trancers 4 except I don’t recommend anyone else ever watch this film. Especially not if you like Trancers or even Tim Thomerson. That definite discouragement aside, for a direct-to-video sequel shot in Romania and set in a different universe like an episode of the original “Star Trek” just so they could use castles and magic and dumb shit, Trancers 4: Jack of Swords could be worse.

It’s bad. It’s a very bad film and director Nutter completely misses the chance to give it any charm whatsoever; he’s really bad. But it could be worse. Peter David’s script is quirky in its plotting. One can only imagine who he had in mind for playing the villain. Instead of anyone good, it’s Clabe Hartley, who kind of acts like a Chippendales dancer trying out to be a magician in 1984. But I’m not even sure Hartley gives the worst performance in the film. He’s energetic. He’s bad at his job but he’s trying.

But Hartley’s still bad because Trancers 4 is bad. It’s just affably simple. Once you get past all the stupidity in the production–like rebel leader Terri Ivens having on a leather bikini top–David’s script is reliably predictable. Nutter butchers whatever pacing the script’s got and doesn’t seem to direct the actors at all.

The not always bad performances are from Stacie Randall, Ty Miller, Alan Oppenheimer and Stephen Macht. Mark Arnold for some reason gets the worst direction in the film as Hartley’s sidekick and it appears to be because Nutter doesn’t understand the script. He probably should’ve asked David to explain it to him. And Arnold, who’s lost, but occasionally seems like he thinks he’s trapped in a terrible comedy.

Lochlyn Munro is bad.

Technically, it could be worse. There are no crew standouts but it’s obvious Nutter’s bad at the whole shot composition thing so there’s only so much the cinematographer and the editor can do. Gary Fry’s music is pretty lame. And the stupid thing has three minute opening titles; they’re desperately trying to pad this thing. It’s seventy-four minutes and has some boring stretches.

Maybe the worst part is the opening with Thomerson in future L.A. was terrible but not without potential. Thomerson’s lost here. The direction’s bad, he’s sharing too much of the script with the supporting cast, it’s a bad part. Thomerson does try and he’s still Thomerson, but Tracers 4 fails him worst of all.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Nutter; screenplay by Peter David, based on characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Lisa Bromwell; music by Gary Fry; production designer, Mircea-Dudus Neagu; produced by Michael Catalano, Oana Paunescu and Vlad Paunescu; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Stacie Randall (Lyra), Clabe Hartley (Caliban), Ty Miller (Prospero), Mark Arnold (Lucius), Terri Ivens (Shaleen), Lochlyn Munro (Sebastian), Alan Oppenheimer (Farr) and Stephen Macht (Harris).


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Moving (1988, Alan Metter)

I really wish–even though the cameo is great–Morris Day wasn’t in Moving. If he weren’t, one could make the argument all the terrible people are white and all the good people (basically Richard Pryor and his family) are black.

But Day shows up for a funny moment. Oh, and bad guy mover Ji-Tu Cumbuka is black too.

Race isn’t actually an issue in Moving (except when Pryor gets confused for a robber and even then they don’t press it). I was just trying to find something interesting to say about the film.

Pryor can apparently rise above any material, even writer Breckman’s script–Breckman eventually has Pryor donning body armor and running around Boise, Idaho with a bunch of guns (he got the gun part right, though I think there are more black people in the film than there are in Idaho state).

Beverly Todd is fine as Pryor’s wife, though the script eventually falls out from under her and she’s left to just silently follow him around. Stacey Dash manages to be weak but appealing as the daughter. As twin sons, Raphael and Ishmael Harris are likable.

Randy Quaid falls flat in a Vacation variation, but Dana Carvey is absolutely hilarious as a car mover with multiple personalities. Conversely, everyone else in the film lacks personality.

Howard Shore’s music’s innocuous, as is Metter’s direction (though there are a few good shots).

It’s like they’re trying to do a W.C. Fields movie for modernity.

It doesn’t work.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Alan Metter; written by Andy Breckman; director of photography, Donald McAlpine; edited by Alan Balsam; music by Howard Shore; production designer, David L. Snyder; produced by Stuart Cornfeld; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Richard Pryor (Arlo Pear), Beverly Todd (Monica Pear), Dave Thomas (Gary Marcus), Dana Carvey (Brad Williams), Randy Quaid (Frank / Cornall Crawford), Stacey Dash (Casey Pear), Raphael Harris (Marshall Pear), Ishmael Harris (Randy Pear), Morris Day (Rudy), Ji-Tu Cumbuka (Edwards), King Kong Bundy (Gorgo), Alan Oppenheimer (Mr. Cadell), Gordon Jump (Simon Eberhart), Bill Wiley (Arnold Butterworth), Bibi Osterwald (Crystal Butterworth) and Paul Willson (Mr. Seeger).