Tag Archives: Anne Bancroft

The Elephant Man (1980, David Lynch)

I am not being hyperbolic when I describe David Lynch’s narrative handling of The Elephant Man to be peerless. If I described it a splendid, there would be other films and narrative handling to compare with it. But this film is so singular–John Hurt as an exceptionally disfigured man in Victoria England, with Lynch concentrating on the medical and industrial revolution, the society, the ambitions of Hurt’s doctor (Anthony Hopkins) and then Hurt’s character himself. And Lynch does it all in grand Hollywood fashion. The Elephant Man’s greatest secret is its openness and accessibility.

Why wouldn’t the film be accessible? Because of Hurt’s disfigurements. Lynch doesn’t give the audience an easy path into the film and the visuals. In fact, he makes it worse with he and cinematographer Freddie Francis’s black and white photography, full of nightmarish images to get the audience thinking on their own. Instead, Lynch gives the audience a deadline. If the audience can’t get over Hurt in the makeup by point X, Lynch isn’t slowing the film for them. At what point is that deadline? Long before Hurt becomes the protagonist (with Hopkins giving it away) but sometime after Hopkins and Hurt meet. Lynch is careful with the emotions in Elephant Man. By the halfway point, the tragedy becomes intolerable; yet the film pushes on, through the intolerable, through the tragedy. Because the film’s openness and accessibility? It’s because of its humanism. Lynch, Francis, composer John Morris–they terrify the audience with the film’s visuals. Along with Anne V. Coates’s sublime edits, The Elephant Man is in a constant dreamlike state, yet undeniably real, which makes every moment even more affecting.

Francis’s black and white photography, the Victorian-era setting, Lynch’s magnificent Panavision composition–The Elephant Man looks epic. The black and white directly engages with the audience. Lynch already has them imagining the color in this historical reality, what else can he get them to imagine. But why are they supposed to imagine? Lynch asks the audience to imagine, to wonder, but he controls the question. He asks the question, steps back, presents the result. Peerless.

The film has wonderful performances. Hurt, on his journey to be the film’s protagonist instead of subject, does some truly phenomenal work. The script–from Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren and Lynch–executes the transfer of protagonist over a somewhat lengthy sequence between the second and third act–just at the right time for Hurt. He’s ready (as his character’s narrative involves being subdued for Hopkins and the rest of the world, but eventually finds confidence to assert himself). And Lynch gets all these moments done right. It’s an impossibly heavy story, told in an aggressive fashion. It’s why the story can work as a big (or at least it looks big) studio picture.

Hopkins is excellent too. His role doesn’t have many subtleties, but its handful are all more than Hurt gets. But Lynch isn’t interested in Hopkins as a protagonist. He’s fine as a narrator, perhaps, but–even before Hopkins loses the lead spot–Lynch clearly doesn’t want him getting in the way of the film.

Freddie Jones is great as the villain. John Gielgud is great as Hopkins’s boss. Wendy Hiller is great. Anne Bancroft. Michael Elphick. Hannah Gordon has a very small part as Hopkins’s wife, but she’s great. All great.

There’s no way to improve The Elephant Man. It’s perfect.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Lynch; screenplay by Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren and Lynch, based on books by Frederick Treves and Ashley Montagu; director of photography, Freddie Francis; edited by Anne V. Coates; music by John Morris; production designer, Stuart Craig; produced by Jonathan Sanger; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring John Hurt (John Merrick), Anthony Hopkins (Frederick Treves), John Gielgud (Carr Gomm), Wendy Hiller (Mothershead), Freddie Jones (Bytes), Michael Elphick (Night Porter), Hannah Gordon (Mrs. Treves), Dexter Fletcher (Bytes’ Boy) and Anne Bancroft (Mrs. Kendal).


This post is part of the Love Hurt Blogathon hosted by Janet of Sister Celluloid.

Honeymoon in Vegas (1992, Andrew Bergman)

Honeymoon in Vegas almost defies description. Bergman drags a sitcom out to ninety minutes. But he also makes his straight man—Nicolas Cage—act like a lunatic. Cage’s performance during the second act features him screaming the end of every sentence.

Wait, I forgot about the utterly useless prologue (though it does give the chance for an Anne Bancroft cameo). Also important is when James Caan’s character reveals himself to be a dangerous psychopath—at the start of the third act, before then he’s just enthusiastic. What else am I forgetting….

Bergman treats the narrative like Johnny Williams’s terribly unfunny flunky, who’s constantly eating. Bergman pays so little attention to his film… he forgets he’s got Cage narrating it in the past tense.

Caan’s bad throughout—it’s the script’s fault, but it’s also his inability to deviate from his normal performance anymore. It’s depressing to see him in Vegas.

Cage is good at the beginning, terrible in the middle and okay at the end. His character is unbelievably stupid because he needs to be, which makes it hard to like him.

And Sarah Jessica Parker, who they both love (Cage had her first, Caan steals her away), is terrible at the beginning. But then she’s great in the middle. She holds up at the end too.

Bergman’s directing of actors is almost as bad as his soap opera composition.

Oh, I didn’t even mention David Newman’s terrible score….

Honeymoon in Vegas is, like I said, indescribable. Except by negative adjectives.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Andrew Bergman; director of photography, William A. Fraker; edited by Barry Malkin; music by David Newman; production designer, William A. Elliott; produced by Mike Lobell; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring James Caan (Tommy Korman), Nicolas Cage (Jack Singer), Sarah Jessica Parker (Betsy), Pat Morita (Mahi Mahi), Johnny Williams (Johnny Sandwich), John Capodice (Sally Molars), Robert Costanzo (Sidney Tomashefsky), Peter Boyle (Chief Orman), Burton Gilliam (Roy Bacon), Seymour Cassel (Tony Cataracts), Tony Shalhoub (Buddy Walker) and Anne Bancroft (Bea Singer).


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Point of No Return (1993, John Badham)

I can’t remember any good Hollywood remakes of recent foreign films. Point of No Return was supposed to be a big deal–Bridget Fonda getting the coveted lead was a big deal (she went on to say she’d never read reviews again after No Return).

The film’s basically a shot for shot remake of Nikita; besides screenwriters of questionable pedigree, the real problem is John Badham.

As a friend once said, “John Badham makes bad movies.”

Badham trying to make this film is ludicrous. It’s got a complicated character arc–villain to hero–and Badham doesn’t work well with complexities. He also doesn’t do well when he doesn’t have a strong, movie star lead.

Part of the point of Point of No Return is Bridget Fonda not having a strong personality. When she’s in scenes with Gabriel Byrne or, especially, Anne Bancroft, it’s a complete misfire under Badham’s direction.

Hans Zimmer’s absurd score is no help either. Zimmer gives an action movie a zany comedy score. And it’s always blaring.

The film’s very much of its time–Harvey Keitel shows up post-Reservoir Dogs, Dermot Mulroney is still in big studio releases–but it’s hard to understand why Warners thought Badham was the right director for this picture. Badham was never an A-list director and this picture was–at least, like I said, in my recollection–intended to be a major release.

Maybe after Luc Besson turned it down, Warner gave up trying.

Instead, Badham made a boring remake.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Badham; screenplay by Robert Getchell and Alexandra Seros, based on a film by Luc Besson; director of photography, Michael W. Watkins; edited by Frank Morriss; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Art Linson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bridget Fonda (Maggie), Gabriel Byrne (Bob), Dermot Mulroney (J.P.), Miguel Ferrer (Kaufman), Anne Bancroft (Amanda), Olivia d’Abo (Angela), Richard Romanus (Fahd Bahktiar) and Harvey Keitel (Victor the Cleaner).


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Love Potion No. 9 (1992, Dale Launer)

I wonder if there’s not a better version of Love Potion No. 9 out there somewhere. The film only runs ninety minutes and feels anorexic. Launer’s writing–even his narration for Tate Donovan–has these moments of incredible strength. It’s so strong, in fact, it and Donovan make Love Potion a fine diversion.

Well, those aspects and Mary Mara’s repugnant call girl who is hilarious in a wicked stepsister sort of way.

Launer’s script has its issues–characters appear and disappear on a whim, as the film decides to focus on Donovan almost exclusively about halfway through. Before, it’s fairly evenly distributed between he and Sandra Bullock. Bullock is the film’s biggest problem. She’s absolutely awful in the second half, when she’s talking anyway. She has this whole sequence where she’s pretending to be mute so no man falls in love with her (the titular love potion affects the vocal cords) and she’s rather charming. Of course, it’s the exact same performance she’s been giving in the twenty years since this film.

But once she does start talking, her character becomes third tier in the story and Launer can’t figure out how to write the scenes. In the first half, he’s got a solid concept. In the second, he’s got a good performance from Donovan and Mara.

It’s really shouldn’t be enough… but it succeeds.

The good memories (from the first half) of Dylan Baker and Rebecca Staab go a long way.

And having Anne Bancroft around never hurt anyone.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by Dale Launer; director of photography, William Wages; edited by Suzanne Pettit; music by Jed Leiber; production designer, Linda Pearl; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tate Donovan (Paul Matthews), Sandra Bullock (Diane Farrow), Mary Mara (Marisa), Dale Midkiff (Gary Logan), Hillary B. Smith (Sally), Anne Bancroft (Madame Ruth), Dylan Baker (Prince Geoffrey), Blake Clark (Motorcycle Cop), Bruce McCarty (Jeff), Rebecca Staab (Cheryl) and Adrian Paul (Enrico Pazzoli).


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