Tag Archives: Billy Dee Williams

Return of the Jedi (1983, Richard Marquand)

Nothing really works out in Return of the Jedi. Even the opening, which is about as good as it can be with director Marquand’s inability to direct the actors and do the special effects, doesn’t exactly work out. Jedi’s problems keep bumping into each other, knocking over the good stuff.

What good stuff? Jabba the Hutt. The Jabba the Hutt puppet is truly amazing. Carrie Fisher. For the first hour of the movie, Fisher gets a whole bunch to do and she’s great at it. Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas’s script doesn’t have much good about it–at its best, it’s just barely competent–but it does structure a good role for Fisher. And she nails it, even with Marquand’s lame direction. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t have anything for her to do once the Ewoks show up.

Are the Ewoks good? The walking, adorable warrior teddy bears?

The costumes are good. But then, all of Jedi’s special effects are well-designed. The special effects sequences are often cut terribly and Alan Hume’s photography leaves a lot to be desired, but the visual concepts are strong. One desperately wants to cut Jedi some slack, just because it seems like things should be working. They just aren’t. Not even John Williams’s score. He has his moments, but there’s no overarching feel to the score. And it’s even bad at times.

As far as the actors go… besides Fisher, the best performances is probably Billy Dee Williams. Williams has a pointless role and he works at it anyway. Harrison Ford has a really weak opening and then is just supposed to charm his way through most of the film. Even when there is a possible good moment, Jedi doesn’t deliver.

And Mark Hamill’s bad. It’s not his fault, but he’s not good. He’s better than Ian McDiarmid though.

Jedi works hard without trying anything. It’s a real disappointment, especially for Hamill, Ford and Fisher. They deserved a lot better.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Marquand; screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas, based on a story by Lucas; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Sean Barton, Marcia Lucas and Duwayne Dunham; music by John Williams; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Howard G. Kazanjian; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), David Prowse (Darth Vader), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Frank Oz (Yoda).


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The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Irvin Kershner)

The most amazing aspect of The Empire Strikes Back is its effortlessness. The film is clearly exceptionally complex–the three story lines have different sets, different actors, different tones, not to mention entirely different special effects requirements–not to mention Frank Oz’s Yoda–but it all appears effortless. Director Kershner is infinitely confident, infinitely assured. He simultaneously manipulates the actors while trusting their abilities entirely.

A lot of Empire’s success is due to Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay. The relationship between Mark Hamill and Oz, the one between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher–not to mention the beautiful acknowledgement of the first film–the little character moments, acknowledging the time they spend together, Anthony Daniels getting to acknowledge the “unreality” of the film, every little thing is so good. There’s a beautiful flow to the film.

And John Williams is responsible for a lot of that flow. Kershner, Williams, cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, editor Paul Hirsch, production designer Norman Reynolds. Those five people are responsible for Empire’s lush, emotive style. It’s a treat. It’s meant to be a treat. These five people get to flex their abilities. They get to show off. But they don’t, because it’s even better to produce something magnificent. Empire is, hands down, my favorite example of a well-produced film. So I guess Gary Kurtz is the most responsible.

Anyway. Williams. Williams and the music. It’s entirely possible between Williams, Suschitzky and Hirsch, no one could give a bad performance in the film. There’s no way to test the theory, unfortunately, because all of the actors are phenomenal. The script–and Kershner–acknowledge the cast’s chemistry and different styles and molds Empire around them. What’s most strange is when Billy Dee Williams arrives, he fits in with them perfectly. Of course, perfect is the only word to describe the film’s performances.

I’m at a bit of a loss as how to close. I thought about talking about how Brackett and Kasdan borrow a lot of plotting techniques from Westerns, but Kershner doesn’t, which actually makes for a more interesting discussion but not a closing.

The Empire Strikes Back is sort of a humanist, escapist picture. Kershner and the rest of the crew–I mean, come on, the special effects are astounding and the way Kershner builds to bigger, then smaller, sequences is breathtaking–they do an amazing job. Everyone does. It’s singular.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Irvin Kershner; screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by John Williams; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Gary Kurtz; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), David Prowse (Darth Vader), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Kenny Baker (R2-D2) and Frank Oz (Yoda).


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Number One with a Bullet (1987, Jack Smight)

With a larger budget–and a different director–Number One with a Bullet might succeed. It’s a wry spoof of cop movies and TV shows, pairing crazy man Robert Carradine and urbane Billy Dee Williams. One has to assume Carradine’s casting against Revenge of the Nerds-type is part of the joke, but Williams seems to be there because he can do the humor straight faced. He’s essential to Bullet‘s limited success.

Most of the problems are technical. For whatever reason, even though cinematographer Álex Phillips Jr. does a wholly competent job lighting, he can’t do any of Smight’s (simple) Steadicam shots. They’re disastrous. He and Smight do come up with a very low key Los Angeles, which is rather nice.

As for Smight… one has to wonder if the lame close-ups are budgetary restrictions. He knows to hold Williams’s reaction shots though, since the length adds depth to the scene.

Carradine’s amusing and endearing, Williams is great. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is weak. Except Mykelti Williamson. He’s awesome. Even Jon Gries is tepid in his small role. Valerie Bertinelli isn’t any good as Carradine’s reluctant love interest and Doris Roberts is inexplicable as Carradine’s nagging mother. Bullet often veers into sitcom territory, only with Smight giving it a slightly more cinematic frame.

Alf Clausen’s jazz score is another of the jokes, but it’s too slow for the action sequences.

Bullet is likable and has good qualities; they don’t add up to a good movie though.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Smight; screenplay by Gail Morgan Hickman, Andrew Kurtzman, Rob Riley and James Belushi, based on a story by Hickman; director of photography, Álex Phillips Jr.; edited by Michael J. Duthie; music by Alf Clausen; production designer, Norm Baron; produced by Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Robert Carradine (Det. Barzak), Billy Dee Williams (Det. Hazeltine), Valerie Bertinelli (Teresa Barzak), Peter Graves (Capt. Ferris), Doris Roberts (Mrs. Barzak), Bobby Di Cicco (Malcolm), Ray Girardin (Lt. Kaminski), Barry Sattels (DeCosta), Mykelti Williamson (Casey) and Jon Gries (Bobby Sweet).

Batman (1989, Tim Burton)

Batman‘s an odd success. It has almost constant problems–Kim Basinger’s bad, Jack Nicholson’s phoning it in (but never contemptuous of the material, which makes it a peculiar performance) and the movie never really finishes the story it starts in the first act–but it’s also got constant greatness. Tim Burton’s direction is fantastic–the only scenes he doesn’t wow with are the ones both he and the viewer are bored with–Danny Elfman’s score makes the movie in a way no one’s done since John Williams and the original Star Wars trilogy, Michael Keaton’s mesmerizing and there’s a whole lot of good stuff.

This good stuff occasionally features the badly acting Basinger, mostly in her romantic scenes with Keaton, only because the combination of writing, direction, music and Keaton are so strong, they overpower any of her silliness (and her goofy outfits). The Batman action is all good too, again because of the direction and the music. Batman might have kicked off the contemporary blockbuster, but it does so in a way no one else has ever duplicated. Burton, apparently unintentionally, peppers the film with iconic sequences. It’s hard not to get involved with the scenes, even though they don’t make any sense, when Burton’s really going. The big Batmobile car chase is not a particularly interesting car chase, but it’s spell-binding. Burton’s Gotham City is obviously false–the matte backgrounds and the (excellent) miniatures–but once the viewer accepts it, it’s impossible to leave.

Still, as the film enters the third act, the good isn’t quite overpowering the bad. The bad’s still putting up a pretty good fight. Strangely, it isn’t the Prince music empowering the bad… though it certainly isn’t hurting it.

But more than any other film–with the possible exception of The Last Temptation of Christ and that example doesn’t count because it’s a far more precise moment–the last five or ten minutes of Batman make the movie. It finally delivers. Keaton’s been good as Batman throughout (in the costume) and great otherwise, but when he faces off with Nicholson and the two banter… it’s other-worldly. I think my favorite part is the use of Keaton’s Bruce Wayne voice. He drops the Batman voice a little for the last scene and it works beautifully. The scene’s so good, the illogically, instantly appearing goons he fights before Nicholson didn’t even bother me.

Then there’s the close and the close is perfect. Not even Basinger can screw it up (though she only has a few lines, but her outfit is ridiculous for a photojournalist).

There’s some really good supporting acting in the film. Billy Dee Williams, Robert Wuhl, Michael Gough. Tracey Walter’s pretty good too. But there’s some absolutely atrocious acting as well–both Jack Palance and William Hootkins are astoundingly bad. They’re both so bad, I can’t believe they weren’t recast. Palance wasn’t famous again yet and Hootkins was going to be pulling in a lot of Porkins supporters.

Technically, besides Burton, Elfman and production designer Anton Furst, Batman‘s kind of underwhelming. Roger Pratt’s cinematography is competent but indistinct. Ray Lovejoy’s editing is fantastic though, especially how he cuts the effects sequences together (I love how Batman’s obviously a little model in the Batwing, but it doesn’t matter).

The last time I saw Batman–must have been ten years ago–I was really down on it. But it’s solid. It’s a chore to get through the first third, but after it, the movie’s solid.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren, based on DC Comics characters created by Bob Kane; director of photography, Roger Pratt; edited by Ray Lovejoy; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Anton Furst; produced by Peter Guber and Jon Peters; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Michael Keaton (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Jack Nicholson (The Joker / Jack Napier), Kim Basinger (Vicki Vale), Robert Wuhl (Alexander Knox), Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon), Billy Dee Williams (Harvey Dent), Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth), Jack Palance (Carl Grissom), Jerry Hall (Alicia), Tracey Walter (Bob the Goon), Lee Wallace (The Mayor) and William Hootkins (Lt. Eckhardt).


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