Tag Archives: Anjelica Huston

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981, Bob Rafelson)

I’d heard–read, actually, but maybe heard as well–the 1981 Postman Always Rings Twice was terrible. If I knew Rafelson directed it, I’d forgotten. I did remember David Mamet wrote it. For some reason, I always thought it was an in name only remake, not at all based on the Cain novel.

The film opens with a loud title sequence. It’s the titles themselves, the font. It’s puffed-up. Only when the headlights enter the black (the titles are white text on black) do the titles start to imply there might be something going on, in terms of good filmmaking. Michael Small’s music, which I’ll get around to describing as disastrous in a little while, is good during the opening titles. Then Nicholson appears, a hitchhiker finding a ride.

The next sequence, which introduces Nicholson, Jessica Lange and her husband, played by John Colicos, is concise. But the film’s problem–Mamet’s script has its problems, but it’s not bad–becomes clear in this scene. Nicholson’s giving a terrible performance. I wouldn’t even describe it as phoning it in, because phoning it in suggests he had the active presence to pick up a telephone and dial it. His performance in The Postman Always Rings Twice is more like someone called Nicholson’s assistant, who held the phone to Nicholson’s ear and mouth while he talked. And had to keep waking him up.

Obviously, Nicholson and Rafelson were the permanent parts of this package, but Nicholson’s presence is constantly dubious. He looks way too old for the part as written–maybe if it had been written for his age, it’d work better, but Nicholson’s somehow both weary and sharp. Doesn’t work. But none of the clothes don’t fit him either. Sure, he’s supposed to be wearing some guy named Phil’s leftover coveralls, but not even his clothes fit him. It’s like the costume department was expecting someone else to show up for the part and then Nicholson arrived on set.

The shame–the near tragedy–of The Postman Always Rings Twice is Jessica Lange. She’s fantastic. Lange’s got one of those hairstyles, the cover one of the eyes kind, lots of directors use to try to avert the viewer’s attention from the actress’s lack of ability (Nicole Kidman’s career is based on her hair’s performing ability) and for a second I was worried–but then Lange starts giving this wonderful, nuanced, textured performance and it’s clear why everyone recognized her talent so quickly. She’s just wonderful. It’s awful such a fine performance was in such a turkey.

A couple more things. First, the music. Small’s score is okay most of the time, but then the explicit sex scene has this romantic music. It’s like Howard Hanson or something. It’s idiotic, doesn’t fit, and makes the scene funny. Unfortunately, I don’t think the whole project was just a joke Rafelson and Nicholson were playing on everyone (if it were, I imagine they would have put in a Head reference).

Second, the setting. The film’s got a beautiful production values, just wonderful 1930s Great Depression stuff. Gorgeous. Except that skyscraper in the background for a second, but whatever. Except… The Postman Always Rings Twice doesn’t work when they’re trying to add all this realism to it. It’s pulp. Reality concerns need to be… sorry… pulped.

Maybe Mamet, who’d only been writing plays until this film, wanted to break free of the fixed set, but it was a bad idea. Except it was nowhere near as bad an idea as letting Nicholson give this performance.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Rafelson; screenplay by David Mamet, based on the novel by James M. Cain; director of photography, Sven Nykvist; edited by Graeme Clifford; music by Michael Small; production designer, George Jenkins; produced by Charles Mulvehill and Rafelson; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Jack Nicholson (Frank Chambers), Jessica Lange (Cora Papadakis), John Colicos (Nick Papadakis), Michael Lerner (Mr. Katz), John P. Ryan (Kennedy), Anjelica Huston (Madge), William Traylor (Sackett) and Thomas Hill (Barlow).


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Choke (2008, Clark Gregg)

Choke working at all is kind of something special. The film’s got a major twist at the end, but it’s a silly one and isn’t, with any thought on the matter, particularly feasible. The film’s got a major plot point for Sam Rockwell–his mother’s diary reports he’s the half-clone of Jesus–and, eventually, he believes it himself. The film never gets the character to the point he could, conceivably, believe it. There’s also the problem of treating a dramatic character study of a sex addict like a Farrelly Brothers comedy. Having Rockwell, strange as it might seem, doesn’t really bolster the film’s prospects. Anjelica Huston’s contribution is far more important (while Rockwell gives a great performance in Choke, it’s the kind of thing he can sleepwalk through), because Huston’s able to combine insane disengagement with genuine concern. Even though the film’s funniest scenes are the ones Huston isn’t in, her scenes are the best.

The credit goes to Clark Gregg, who both adapted the novel, directed the film and appears in a small role (as the film’s only–semi–villainous character). With a miniscule budget and excellent casting, Gregg makes Choke into a limited success. The film’s potential is hard to gauge–it doesn’t shoot particularly high and, even with its curbed ambitions, fumbles in the end. A lot of the problem comes from the twist, which is throwaway. It occurs in the last five minutes of the film (Choke only runs ninety minutes; five is a not insignificant period) and never gets resolved with the principles. It gets resolved off-screen, as Choke changes gears into the affable dirty comedy again, so it doesn’t have to take responsibility for being absurd. Choke‘s characters can be absurd–the two main settings are the mental hospital where Huston is committed and Rockwell’s job, a colonial America theme park–but it never can go off the deep end. To get the ending, it goes swimming way too close.

Where Gregg doesn’t work is the music. Gregg relies heavily on it and his choices are off. Their choosing doesn’t imply any inspiration–and in a film filled with flashbacks starring Anjelica Huston… it’s hard not to remember Wes Anderson and his superior choice of music. The flashbacks are another problem with Choke. They’re essential, sure, but they just reveal the story to be unremarkable. Huston and Rockwell have some good scenes together–but not enough–and they raise it. But Choke‘s rather conventional.

The script doesn’t give the supporting cast much content, so when Brad William Henke is excellent, it’s an achievement. Kelly Macdonald ought to be great, but she isn’t. She’s fine, but nothing more. It isn’t really her fault though. Gregg’s script doesn’t give her much to do.

Choke fails to turn its elements–the mother and son story, the addiction story, the con man story–into a cohesive, feasible comedic character study. It tries real hard and does a lot of good things and maybe reveals these elements to be mutually exclusive, but it comes up a little short. It’s a fine film and a fun viewing experience, but there’s the implication it’s going for more and it never gets there.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Clark Gregg; screenplay by Gregg, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk; director of photography, Tim Orr; edited by Joe Klotz; music by Nathan Larson; production designer, Roshelle Berliner; produced by Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson, Johnathan Dorfman and Temple Fennell; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Sam Rockwell (Victor Mancini), Anjelica Huston (Ida Mancini), Kelly Macdonald (Paige Marshall), Brad William Henke (Denny), Jonah Bobo (Young Victor), Paz de la Huerta (Nico) and Gillian Jacobs (Cherry Daiquiri).


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The Darjeeling Limited (2007, Wes Anderson)

The first sequence in The Darjeeling Limited suggests a far worse film than Anderson actually delivers. A frantic taxi race to a train station with Bill Murray suggests Anderson has become–well, I really don’t know who, but someone who miscasts incredibly. Besides the Murray cameo coming off like Anderson fulfilling his image, the taxi race also features really fast editing… suggesting Darjeeling is going to be, just like The Life Aquatic, more in love with the Anderson composition and editing than actual storytelling content. It gets better quickly, but it’s still empty. The glib answer is Anderson obviously needs Owen Wilson co-writing, but The Darjeeling Limited provides various other reasons….

The film does feature the best lead character since Bottle Rocket, in this case, Adrien Brody’s. Brody definitely becomes the main character after a specific plot twist, but long before it occurs, he’s the one. For a simple reason too. Because Owen Wilson is playing the standard Owen Wilson in a Wes Anderson film role and because Jason Schwartzman is playing… well, Schwartzman isn’t really playing anyone. He never learned, apparently, to act. But he’s generally fine, even though his most frequent form of emoting is mugging knowingly at the camera. Wilson’s good, occasionally even touching with Schwartzman and Brody, but it’s not a stretch. It’s the kind of role he’d do in a television commercial.

Anderson released a prologue to Darjeeling online and the film annoyingly starts with a reminder to go and watch it, then the film proceeds to directly reference it… which is more annoying than Murray’s dumb cameo and the second cameo (though this one turns out all right) combined. It really does feel like Anderson’s turning in to the hipster Kevin Smith with Darjeeling, particularly the use of Schwartzman and his vapid character. It takes the entire movie (ninety minutes) to figure out what Schwartzman’s supposed to be doing and he co-wrote the screenplay.

Did I already mention Brody’s absolutely fantastic, a really wonderful performance in what turns out to be a wonderful role? I think I did.

Darjeeling is also very funny. I’m not sure who wrote the best jokes, but they’re played more for audience response than Anderson usually tries for. They keep the movie going.

When the film gets really good for a while, really effective, it’s unfortunately in a moment the film cannot close on. Instead, it keeps going and going, trying everything it can to force a satisfactory conclusion. The one it comes too, unfortunately, is cheap and awkward, like Anderson wasn’t ready to stop writing the characters yet.

Strictly speaking about Anderson’s direction–and not his writing–Darjeeling shows off how good a director he’s become. Unfortunately, his writing has become lazy. In order to allow his characters this adventure, Anderson makes them limitlessly wealthy. It gets annoying after a while, after the third crack about the six thousand dollar belt.

Because Brody’s not central throughout (in many ways, it’s Anderson’s most traditional film), it’s… like I said, a little empty overall. And people do too much for laughs, say too much for them, don’t say too much for them.

It’s a fine enough film–with some excellent scenes in it–but Anderson very obviously needs different co-writers.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson, Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Andrew Weisblum; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Anderson, Scott Rudin, Coppola and Lydia Dean Pilcher; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Owen Wilson (Francis), Adrien Brody (Peter), Jason Schwartzman (Jack), Amara Karan (Rita), Wallace Wolodarsky (Brendan), Waris Ahluwalia (The Chief Steward), Irfan Khan (The Father), Barbet Schroeder (The Mechanic), Camilla Rutherford (Alice), Bill Murray (The Businessman) and Anjelica Huston (Patricia).


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