Tag Archives: Anne Bancroft

Critical Care (1997, Sidney Lumet)

Critical Care opens on its main set–sets are important in Critical Care–with Helen Mirren (as a nurse) checking up on ICU patients. The ICU is a circle, Mirren rounding it by the end of the titles, returning to the station at the center, where James Spader (as a resident) naps during a thirty-six hour shift. The two have a conversation about medical school, Spader’s dating habits and mundanities. It’s a strange opening–technically superior thanks to Lumet–with the ICU an all white environment (it’s like 2001, actually). When the film moves into a world of color, Critical Care maintains the same tone–which is incredibly difficult, or should be, given Albert Brooks is in old age make-up (with Spader as his disinclined protégé). It’s slightly off. Lumet’s got a specific visual style for the film, but even taking it into account, it’s still slightly off.

And then–just before the Blow Up homage–I realized what makes Critical Care so particular. It’s the finest adaptation of a stage play where the source material is not a stage play. Lumet’s approach to the film is to present the action–in the ICU, the material outside that setting is a lot more filmic–like it’s playing out on stage. This approach doesn’t affect Lumet’s composition, which is excellent and cinematic, and I can’t even tell if it’s in Steven Schwartz’s script. But the time Lumet gives to his actors–Spader and Mirren–is stunning. They have scenes together throughout the film, but they both have their own story arcs (Spader’s being the major one) and when they reunite at the end… it’s almost like the film’s been holding its breath and no one noticed. It’s fantastic.

Lumet also makes a lot of time for Brooks, but it’d be criminal if he hadn’t. Not only is Brooks constantly hilarious–and frightening, given he’s talking about healthcare–but it’s the one time (in recent cinema) where someone playing aged works perfectly. The logic mazes–Brooks’s character suffers from short term memory losses–in the scenes are hysterical.

Spader’s got a very leading man role here and he plays it well. It’s probably the finest film performance I’ve seen him give. Mirren’s excellent as well–her scenes with Jeffrey Wright, where he doesn’t talk, are great. Wright’s scenes with Wallace Shawn, where he does talk, are also great. One of the greatest things about Critical Care is its fearlessness. The film doesn’t have a big hook at the beginning, it doesn’t have any reason to expect a lot of involvement from its viewers; it just goes ahead without concerning itself with them.

The supporting cast–Kyra Sedgwick, Anne Bancroft, Philip Bosco, especially Colm Feore–is superior.

I’ve known about this film for eleven years–I remember seeing a picture of Brooks in make-up–but I never got around to seeing it until now. Through its running time, it just gets better and better. Near the end, as the film shifted into its final stage, I worried about it forgetting itself. It doesn’t. The end has all the right ingredients, mixed wonderfully.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Steven Schwartz, based on the novel by Richard Dooling; director of photography, David Watkin; edited by Tom Swartwout; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Schwartz and Lumet; released by Live Entertainment.

Starring James Spader (Dr. Werner Ernst), Kyra Sedgwick (Felicia Potter), Helen Mirren (Stella), Anne Bancroft (Nun), Albert Brooks (Dr. Butz), Jeffrey Wright (Bed Two), Margo Martindale (Connie Potter), Wallace Shawn (Furnaceman), Philip Bosco (Dr. Hofstader), Colm Feore (Richard Wilson), Edward Herrmann (Robert Payne), James Lally (Poindexter) and Harvey Atkin (Judge Fatale).


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Malice (1993, Harold Becker)

Malice starts relatively okay, but it’s got a terribly flawed first half. Until the point Bill Pullman takes over as lead character, especially as Alec Baldwin and Nicole Kidman are spiraling through their lawsuit, it seems like Malice is going to be a well-produced disaster. It’s well-made, reasonably well-directed–Becker does a good job for the most part, but he has some really poor setups–and well-written. As it started, I wondered who was going to have written it… Aaron Sorkin and Scott Frank (which is probably why I queued it). It’s got a good Jerry Goldsmith score, lovely cinematography… Pullman’s good, Bebe Neuwirth is good, Alec Baldwin has some good scenes. Why would it, had the story not focused on Pullman, have been such an unmitigated disaster?

Nicole Kidman gives one of the singularly worst performances of the 1990s, though probably not the worst of her career. Hearing her speak lovely Sorkin dialogue makes the ears bleed. After a while, someone caught on, because they were using her hair to express emotion. It’s astounding and proof the Hollywood star machine has never gone away (because there’s no reason Kidman should have gotten as far as Malice in her career without a critic calling her laugh-out-loud funny).

But once it switches gears and follows Pullman–the scenes with Pullman and Neuwirth really help and, along with the production value, make the movie–it turns into a revisionist Hitchcock. It’s like a modern Suspicion with Bill Pullman as Joan Fontaine. And Nicole Kidman is one of the tires on the car at the end of Suspicion.

Anyway.

The film has an unnecessary thriller element added to the first half (because it’s not really a thriller) and it’s an afterthought, even when watching. When the mystery gets near being resolved–after giving Gwyneth Paltrow a well-acted cameo–I’d forgotten it was a subplot. Thrillers tend to be geared towards first viewings. Repeat viewings either reveal one is just an immersive story without anything going for it besides the final resolution or if it’s one with some more content to it. Malice, very surprisingly, turns out to be one with some more content.

Anne Bancroft’s small role alone probably justifies a second viewing, but Baldwin’s character is actually rather complicated and there are some very interesting scenes near the beginning, considering the ending, which carry some weight. There’s also that Pullman and Neuwirth chemistry.

Malice would be a lot better if Pullman and Neuwirth’s names came first. It’d also benefit from a longer running time and a female actor in Kidman’s role who could believably sit in a cafe in the background of an action movie during a chase scene, remaining onscreen for a quarter of a second.

But, I suppose, Kidman’s atrocious performance is a testament to Malice’s qualities.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Harold Becker; screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and Scott Frank, from a story by Sorkin and Jonas McCord; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by David Bretherton; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designed by Philip Harrison; produced by Rachel Pfeffer, Charles Mulvehill and Becker; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Bill Pullman (Andy Safian), Nicole Kidman (Tracy Kennsinger), Alec Baldwin (Dr. Jed Hill), Bebe Neuwirth (Det. Dana Harris), George C. Scott (Dr. Martin Kessler), Anne Bancroft (Mrs. Kennsinger), Peter Gallagher (Atty. Dennis Riley), Josef Sommer (Atty. Lester Adams), Tobin Bell (Earl Leemus), William Duff-Griffin (Dr. George Sullivan), Debrah Farentino (Nurse Tanya), Gwyneth Paltrow (Paula Bell), David Bowe (Dr. Matthew Robertson) and Diana Bellamy (Ms. Worthington).


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Home for the Holidays (1995, Jodie Foster)

For the first thirty or so minutes, Home for the Holidays is exactly the film its trailer presented. It’s a genial family comedy with a recognizable cast, a mix of standard casting choices like Charles Durning (Dad), semi-standards like Anne Bancroft (Mom), and unknown ones like Geraldine Chaplin (crazy aunt). Even when Robert Downey Jr. (gay brother) shows up, it’s still a recognizable comedy. We’re following Holly Hunter around on her unpleasant due to familial eccentricities Thanksgiving. Then David Strathairn shows up for a one-scene cameo and Home for the Holidays becomes something else entirely. The scene’s affecting in a significant way and, here’s another aspect of the film, Jodie Foster knows it. I’m not sure there’s ever been such a polished sophomore directorial effort than this one. Foster shoots that scene with Strathairn different and she has to shoot it different, because it is different. Then I realized, Foster changes her approach all throughout Holidays, totally in tune with the content. Flipping past the film over the length, so long as one kept forgetting Holly Hunter, a person could think it was a different film. It’s a very particular film.

I’d seen it once before, about eight years ago, at the height of my institutionalized film snobbery (working with a bunch of film school students and graduates at a snobby video store), recommended by someone who didn’t buy into the snobbery–actually, I don’t think she recommended it, just mentioned it–and I thought it was a great film. I probably even thought it was great for the same reasons I do now, which–given the time lapse–is a little surprising (but also agreeable, since I was a little afraid during the opening twenty it’d be decent but unspectacular). But I’d forgotten it, so I was with Foster through the film–when she introduced section cards, I was a little weary, but by the third, she turns them into prompts for the viewer to think about the film he or she is watching.

And then, when the film gets to the actual Thanksgiving dinner–Geraldine Chaplin has her big scene and it changes Home for the Holidays again… Foster uses the same style–presenting the viewer (and the characters) with something they expect to be amusing, but then changing the viewer’s perspective of the film and the characters’ perspective of themselves. Then, pretty soon after dinner’s over, Dylan McDermott takes over. I’ve seen McDermott in very little and Holidays is early in his high profile career buildup, but Foster gets an amazing performance out of him. Unbelievable, really–his character is impossible, but Foster and McDermott pull it off. I’m not sure how much W.D. Richter’s script contributed, because there’s one scene where it really looks like they (Hunter, McDermott and Foster) played a scene different from the way it’d be written. But, whatever… Foster has a lot of odd homages in here, to films a family comedy probably shouldn’t reference (I can’t remember because I didn’t make any notes, but along the lines of Welles and Ford–with some Woody Allen). The McDermott stuff plays like a Howard Hawks comedy, only there’s no space for the viewer to acclimate, so he or she just gets caught up in it. And once it’s going, it’s fantastic stuff.

Watching the clock as it got near the end, I kept wondering how Foster was going to wrap it all up. Her choice is amazing; predictable, but amazing. She conducts her characters out of a genial comedy and into something else. It’s something a little new even. While some of it is familiar territory, her nurturing of the characters really pays off at the end.

It’s a wonderful film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jodie Foster; written by W.D. Richter, based on a short story by Chris Radant; director of photography, Lajos Koltai; edited by Lynzee Klingman; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Andrew McAlpine; produced by Peggy Rajski and Foster; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Holly Hunter (Claudia Larson), Robert Downey Jr. (Tommy Larson), Anne Bancroft (Adele Larson), Charles Durning (Henry Larson), Dylan McDermott (Leo Fish), Geraldine Chaplin (Aunt Glady), Steve Guttenberg (Walter Wedman), Cynthia Stevenson (Joanne Wedman), Claire Danes (Kitt) and David Strathairn (Russell Terziak).


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