Tag Archives: Bill Pullman

Independence Day (1996, Roland Emmerich)

There’s a mature way to talk about Independence Day. I should know, I’ve started writing this response about twelve times and this attempt is an entirely new draft. The mature way involves complementing David Brenner’s editing, complementing director Emmerich’s ability to integrate the special effects (regardless of their quality) and saying something nice about some of those special effects. Not all of them. The film has laughably bad explosions and lame matte shots. One could argue it was early in the CG days and it did actually have a limited budget so it did all right.

One could argue those things and, if trying to be mature, one might accept them and consider them.

I won’t be considering them further than this paragraph. Because what Independence Day does is embrace being a half measure, it tells its audience the recognizable but not exactly A-list cast is good enough, it tells its audience David Arnold’s “I’m like John Williams but bad” score is good enough. And it worked, because Emmerich and co-writer Dean Devlin aren’t serious filmmakers. I mean, they might take Independence Day seriously, which is a mistake because it means the jokes never quite work–Bill Pullman, the stupidest person on the face of the earth, as the President of the United States, in a terrible performance. It ought to be amazing. And it’s never even all right.

Because Emmerich and Devlin aren’t serious. They don’t care about integrity or craft and they know there’s a lot of potential audience who don’t care about it either. And they were right. Emmerich’s handling of the special effects, which very well may have done wonders in acclimating general moviegoers to science fiction action, isn’t thoughtful. His multiple homages to Spielberg are so awkward because he’s clueless. Emmerich knows how to present the visual information for consumption, but he can’t make a single artful thing. And he knows it. Independence Day is hilariously comfortable in its own mediocrity, which is a complement. It would actually be worse if it resented being so lame.

Not to say Devlin and Emmerich don’t exhibit confidence in the screenplay. They do, even down to Harry Connick Jr.’s moron sidekick to Will Smith. Or Randy Quaid’s lovably drunk Vietnam vet crop duster. They know how to do what they want to do. They just don’t want to do too much. Mary McDonnell as the First Lady, for example. She gets a similar treatment as Connick or Quaid, but McDonnell’s good enough to get through the part (she has less to do). She, Judd Hirsch and Adam Baldwin get through Independence Day the best. Baldwin probably gives the best performance (in the film), while Hirsch is downright terrible. But part of the point is admiring Hirsch’s professionalism in his terrible performance. Of course it’s awful, but look at how consistent he is with it. He’s a pro.

Not so much with Jeff Goldblum, who’s playing the really smart guy, only Emmerich and Devlin’s understanding of intelligence is apparently based on reruns of “Head of the Class.”

As for breakout star Will Smith. He’s good about twenty percent of the time. He’s got some annoying dialogue, which Smith essays with gusto, but he still manages to be somewhat likable. Maybe that sympathy comes from the film eventually treating him like a moron. The plot’s moronic, yet Smith has to be even more moronic so Goldblum can explain things to him (and the audience). Smith’s dialogue then has him spout of non sequiturs meant to maintain his independent likability while still acknowledging Goldblum’s superior intellect.

It’s heinously manipulative but also awfully rendered, so who cares? Emmerich’s direction of Smith and Goldblum’s scenes is his worst direction of actors in the film and his direction of actors is atrocious.

The first third, setting up the alien attack, isn’t godawful. It’s fine, if still poorly acted and poorly written. It does start to go downhill when Goldblum and Hirsch join Pullman’s storyline, but there’s still a pace (and some of the film’s best effects sequences).

The rest of it? So much worse. Even Arnold’s music gets worse.

Independence Day is a film with a bad James Rebhorn performance. Such a thing should not exist.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roland Emmerich; written by Dean Devlin and Emmerich; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub; edited by David Brenner; music by David Arnold; production designers, Patrick Tatopoulos and Oliver Scholl; produced by Devlin; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Will Smith (Captain Steven Hiller), Bill Pullman (President Thomas J. Whitmore), Jeff Goldblum (David Levinson), Mary McDonnell (First Lady Marilyn Whitmore), Judd Hirsch (Julius Levinson), Robert Loggia (General William Grey), Randy Quaid (Russell Casse), Margaret Colin (Constance Spano), Vivica A. Fox (Jasmine Dubrow), James Rebhorn (Albert Nimziki), Harvey Fierstein (Marty Gilbert), Adam Baldwin (Major Mitchell) and Brent Spiner (Dr. Brakish Okun).


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Bottle Shock (2008, Randall Miller)

I have to make a disclosure. I try to drink the highest Robert Parker rated wine I can afford. They’ve tended to be French. Actually, I think they’ve all been French. But whatever.

Because Bottle Shock seems rather like advertising for Napa Valley wine, so much so, I’d love to see who financed it. There should have been a disclosure (one way or the other), it’s so much of a commercial. And as a commercial, Bottle Shock does a fine job. It’s a good impression of one of those charming, Miramax-released little comedy dramas from the late 1990s. Some of these also even starred Alan Rickman. It’s got a reasonably appealing cast (in the Miramax version, the actors would be better known) and it’s a diverting couple hours.

Where Bottle Shock fails as a film is having real characters or real drama. In fact, it runs away from ever having either. The inevitable American win is foretold in the opening voiceover (the film’s use of voiceover is inane, but I guess they had a bunch of helicopter shots of Napa Valley and didn’t want to subject the viewer to any more of composer Mark Adler’s gratingly affable theme music)–there’s no suspense when it comes to the actual tasting. At best, the film could have shown the French response… instead, it’s barely implied. Having Rickman be the pseudo-Frenchman of the film (a francophile Brit) is, regardless of historical accuracy, not very filmic. The wine tasting is also cut in half–the film only shows the half relating to the film’s story, which makes certain subplots entirely wasted.

But the film also forgets about a lot. Take Freddy Rodriguez’s proud vineyard worker slash winemaker who briefly romances Rachael Taylor (who’s bad, but nowhere near as atrocious as usual and far better than Eliza Dushku, who has a glorified cameo) and fights bigotry where he finds it. Rodriguez plays a big part in the beginning, but then disappears. Chris Pine–as Pullman’s son–takes over the focus, as well as Taylor’s affections. The scene where Rodriguez and Taylor resolve their romance is missing, presumably cut to give Pine (the man who will be Kirk) more screen time.

Pine’s not bad. He’s not particularly good, either, but every single character in the film is so poorly written, it’s impossible to tell what he’d do. Actually, all signs are positive. He and Pullman do have one or two honest scenes; the movie’s so blissfully mediocre, it’s impossible to fault it for not being better.

Pullman and Rickman–and Dennis Farina–phone in their performances but they’re all excellent at what they’re doing. Rickman makes fun of being British, Farina makes a Chicago reference, and Pullman is sturdy but complicated. All things they’ve been doing for fifteen years. Bottle Shock should be Pine or Rodriguez’s film (Rodriguez is a tad broad however), but the script doesn’t allow it. The movie’s got to be about advertising that Napa Valley wine, not the characters. The end text reminds these are real people in the story and presumably bound to faithful retelling… it just doesn’t make their stories interesting. The characters, like I said before, are terrible–they’re out of TV commercials.

Randall Miller’s direction is annoying. He’s got some big cranes and a lot of helicopters and uses them all the time. He shoots the movie Panavision–I’m hoping to get the expanse of the vineyards in frame–but then does shaky handheld for conversation scenes. It adds to the movie’s air of incompetence. It’s not a charming air either.

Failing comparisons to those Miramax low budget charmers aside, Bottle Shock isn’t awful and it’s diverting enough. If it were a television movie, it’d probably be exceptional. Well, maybe if it were on USA or something, it’d be exceptional. I just wish they’d given some of the fine actors–Miguel Sandoval’s in it and I don’t even want to talk about the tiny (but wonderfully acted) Bradley Whitford appearance–characters to play instead of advertising to deliver.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Randall Miller; screenplay by Miller, Jody Savin and Ross Schwartz, based on a story by Schwartz, Lannette Pabon, Savin and Miller; director of photography, Mike Ozier; edited by Miller and Dan O’Brien; music by Mark Adler; production designer, Craig Stearns; produced by Miller, Savin, J. Todd Harris, Marc Toberoff, Brenda Lhormer and Marc Lhormer; released by Freestyle Releasing.

Starring Bill Pullman (Jim Barrett), Alan Rickman (Steven Spurrier), Chris Pine (Bo Barrett), Freddy Rodriguez (Gustavo Brambila), Rachael Taylor (Sam Clayton), Dennis Farina (Maurice Cantavale), Miguel Sandoval (Garcia), Eliza Dushku (Joe), Bradley Whitford (Professor Saunders) and Joe Regalbuto (Bill).


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Spaceballs (1987, Mel Brooks)

It’s kind of amazing how much of Spaceballs is actually funny–pretty much everything with Rick Moranis and Mel Brooks as the Spaceballs president–given how everything with Bill Pullman and Daphne Zuniga falls flat. It doesn’t even fall… it’s a zero degree plane. Some of it has to do with the writing of that portion–Brooks and his co-writers aren’t particularly interested in the good guys because they aren’t funny (the jokes are cheap and substandard and Brooks tries to give it a narrative–and romantic tension–instead of playing against narrative for laughs, like the Moranis parts). But it’s not all poor writing–Pullman’s terrible and Zuniga’s worse, giving one of the abysmal performances in a Hollywood studio film from the 1980s.

There aren’t any good performances on the good guy side–John Candy’s probably the best, if only by comparison (he’s not good by any means and his character is unfunny) and Joan Rivers’s vocal work as the robot is obnoxious. It doesn’t help it’s obvious the robot is frequently a dummy. Brooks as the Yoda stand-in isn’t funny and the only amusing parts of his sequence (besides the Wizard of Oz reference, which is good) is trying to place the actors playing the Dinks (the Jawas). The less said about Dick Van Patten, the better.

The bad guys are all great, from Brooks as the dumb president (though it’s hard not to think he’s doing a Harvey Korman impression), George Wyner and then there’s Moranis. Moranis does something real strange in the movie, especially given the Pullman, Zuniga and Candy sequences. He acts and he acts very well.

The rest–the jokes about marketing–is hit and miss, but the real problem is Brooks tries to tie a narrative to the movie instead of just playing for laughs. It makes Spaceballs rely on Pullman and Zuniga, so it really can’t do anything but fail.

And… I really do think George Lucas ripped off the good planet’s costume designs for Episode I.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Mel Brooks; written by Brooks, Thomas Meehan and Ronny Graham; director of photography, Nick McLean; edited by Conrad Buff IV; music by John Morris; production designed by Terence Marsh; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Mel Brooks (President Skroob / Yoghurt), Rick Moranis (Dark Helmet), Bill Pullman (Lone Starr), Daphne Zuniga (Princess Vespa), John Candy (Barf), George Wyner (Colonel Sandurz), Joan Rivers as the voice of Dot Matrix, Dick Van Patten (King Roland) and Michael Winslow (Radar Technician).


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Ruthless People (1986, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker)

Clocking in at a whopping ninety minutes, Ruthless People feels a tad undercooked. Lots of trailer-ready sequences, lots of memorable moments, nothing to really connect them. The ZAZ directing team (it’s probably been sixteen years since I’ve thought about them) is adequate, but they don’t really direct actors very well here, so the casting goes a long way (Bill Pullman suffers the most, having the easiest character to play and most of his scenes fall flat).

Danny DeVito is great–turning in a performance so good I thought about renting Twins–but he’s not really getting any help from the directors and the script just plays him as a jerk, so DeVito isn’t really doing anything very difficult. Weight loss figures greatly in to the story–it saves kidnappers Helen Slater and Judge Reinhold from doing jail time–as Bette Midler loses twenty pounds in four days and has the Stockholm syndrome going in full effect.

The movie’s mostly missed opportunities–not counting the cartoon relationship between DeVito and Midler, which is mostly implied–particularly Reinhold and Slater’s touching love story… also implied. They’re the down-on-their-luck young couple who made a big mistake and haven’t been able to recover. There’s a lot of possibility (especially with a Michel Colombier score), but it doesn’t go anywhere.

Thanks to all the problems–the directors and the writer (I have no idea if the abbreviated storytelling is the script or the direction, but it’s unfair to put it all on the directors)–the most amusing parts of Ruthless People are the two cops, played by Art Evans and Clarence Felder, who are enduring all the defects along with the audience. A mix approach–the kidnappers, the cops, the husband–required traditional storytelling in Ruthless People….

Instead, the directors just made an unfilling mess.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker; written by Dale Launer, based on a story by O. Henry; director of photography, Jan de Bont; edited by Gib Jaffe and Arthur Schmidt; music by Michel Colombier; produced by Michael Peyser; released by Touchstone Films.

Starring Danny DeVito (Sam Stone), Bette Midler (Barbara Stone), Judge Reinhold (Ken Kessler), Helen Slater (Sandy Kessler), Anita Morris (Carol Dodsworth), Bill Pullman (Earl Mott), William G. Schilling (Chief Henry Benton), Art Evans (Lt. Bender), Clarence Felder (Lt. Walters), J.E. Freeman (Bedroom Killer) and Gary Riley (Heavy Metal Kid).


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