Tag Archives: Blythe Danner

Futureworld (1976, Richard T. Heffron)

Futureworld ends with a ten minute chase sequence. It feels like thirty. The movie runs 107 boring minutes and I really did think thirty of them were spent on Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner battling evil robots. And not even Danner. Fonda. Just Peter Fonda running around giant underground maintenance rooms.

Fonda and Danner play reporters on special assignment to cover the revamped Delos resort. A few years earlier–in Westworld–all the humanoid robots went crazy and killed guests. Fonda wrote the expose on it. Danner is the TV newswoman who used to work for Fonda and he fired for not being newsy enough. He calls her “Socks.” The film is one long diss to Danner. It gets worse as it goes along; the “Socks” thing takes a while to get introduced and then the script uses it every sixteenth word.

Neither Fonda nor Danner appeared in the first film. The only returning actor is Yul Brynner, who appears more in footage from Westworld than he does in Futureworld footage. Behind the camera, composer Fred Karlin and cinematographer Gene Polito (sharing credit this time with Howard Schwartz) both return. Karlin’s score is godawful. Polito and Schwartz’s photography is adequate. It’s not their fault the movie’s a bore.

Mayo Simon and George Schenck don’t have much of a story. Fonda suspects something is wrong at the reopened resort, Danner doesn’t. Company man Arthur Hill assures them everything is fine. But mad scientist John P. Ryan is actually doing bad things. It’s unclear for a while what the bad things are, but they’re bad in the montage sequences so they must be bad. There are a lot of montage sequences in the first half of Futureworld. It’s scene, montage, scene, montage. It seems budgetary–get to the exposition sequences as fast as possible, skipping any action sequences.

It helps Futureworld (the resort) only shows up in the first third of the movie. It’s a cheesy futuristic bar with holographic chess a year before it got to a galaxy far far away. It’s silly, but not fun. Because Futureworld isn’t any fun. Director Heffron plays it all straight, something Fonda can’t do and Danner seems unclear about.

Fonda is not good. It’s not entirely his fault, his character spends the beginning of the second act devolved into an even more patronizing jackass (to Danner) than before. The situation changes when Stuart Margolin shows up. He knows the dirt on the robots (or something). It’s a terribly paced, poorly written sequence. But Margolin’s at least likable.

Danner’s kind of sympathetic. Not her character, because she doesn’t have on, but Danner. You feel for her being in this movie. Towards the end, you sort of assume Fonda agreed to do it stoned but why did Danner agree. She should’ve fired her agent. Especially since the movie ought to be a relative no-brainer.

Killer future robots instead of killer Western robots.

But there isn’t much robot action in Futureworld; though the script fixates on the possibilities of robot sex in the first act. It’s not really a thing afterwards, even when there’s robot sex. That robot sex features one of the only two robots in the second half of the movie (of consequence).

The script does a lot to increase its efficiency (like taking place entirely underground–or on obvious sets–in the second half). With a better script, better production, better director, better actor (no script was going to make Fonda’s performance better, he’s a miscasting epitome), Futureworld might be able to work.

Instead, it’s a dull attempt at cheap “intellectual sci-fi.” It’s long, goofy, and never professional enough to take seriously. It’s strange Westworld creator Michael Crichton gets zero credit on the film, but reasonable. Who’d want their name on it?

Though, heavy John P. Ryan as a subdued bad guy scientist is at least interesting to watch. The material’s all bad, but Ryan’s a strange enough casting choice seeing how he essays it… it’s mildly diverting. As opposed to Hill, who eventually gets some Danner-esque sympathy. Not as much, but some.

Futureworld’s bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Richard T. Heffron; screenplay by Mayo Simon and George Schenck, based on characters created by Michael Crichton; directors of photography, Howard Schwartz and Gene Polito; edited by James Mitchell; music by Fred Karlin; produced by James T. Aubrey and Paul N. Lazarus III; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Peter Fonda (Chuck Browning), Blythe Danner (Tracy Ballard), Arthur Hill (Duffy), John P. Ryan (Dr. Schneider), Stuart Margolin (Harry), Jim Antonio (Ron Thurlow),and Yul Brynner (The Gunslinger).


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No Looking Back (1998, Edward Burns)

No Looking Back runs just under a hundred minutes. The first half of the film–roughly the first half–evenly relies on its cast. In fact, top-billed Lauren Holly almost has less than either Jon Bon Jovi and director Burns (acting, second-billed) in the first half. It’s a love triangle and she’s the prize. Burns is coming back to Nowhere, Long Island after running away to California years before. Ex-girlfriend Holly has moved on and in with Bon Jovi, who’s ostensibly a childhood friend of Burns’s but it’s a somewhat reluctant friendship. Burns is a jerk from scene two. He has two honest moments in the film; his first and his last. The rest of the time, he’s basically just a prick.

But he’s a different kind of prick than Bon Jovi, who’s the too perfect man. He wants to be a good dad, can’t wait for Holly to join his mom and sisters in the kitchen for football Sunday (he’s in the living room with his brothers), and so on and so forth. There’s this strange transition with sympathies, which Burns (as a writer and director) doesn’t deal with very well. He tries hard to keep the love triangle restless–the three characters never all interact in a single scene, even if all present–and it strains the film at times. But it also pays off because it means Holly gets more opportunity.

Then around the halfway market, a Bruce Springsteen song comes on the radio and No Looking Back totally changes. The first half soundtrack, with the exception of a Patti Scialfa track or two, is indistinct, bland, late nineties pseudo-alternative songs. Nothing distinct. And then, all of a sudden, Holly assumes the protagonist role decisively. Performance, script, direction. The first half of the movie has been an awkward setup to provide back story to turn the second half into a Bruce Springsteen mix tape set to film. And it’s exceptional. The film’s flow is better, the scenes more poignant–I mean, it’s a soap opera. The thing couldn’t fail the Bechdel test more if it tried. But it’s this exceptional soap opera turned character study. And what ends up saving it is when Burns, as writer and director, stops pretending there’s any depth to he and Bon Jovi’s characters. More, the characters have to stop pretending too. It’s awesome.

Plus, there’s scene payoff for most of the supporting cast. Blythe Danner (as Holly’s mom) gets almost nothing in the first half and ends up being essential in pulling off the big finale upswing. Connie Britton’s great as Holly’s sister, with the first half’s least disjointed arc. Jennifer Esposito and Nick Sandow are both good as various friends, though Sandow’s basically Norm from “Cheers” and Esposito doesn’t get enough to do.

Oh–and Joe Delia’s score is a mess in the first half. There’s this generic hard rock theme running through the score. Maybe Burns could only get the four or five Springsteen songs and had to save them, but it’s not a good theme for Holly as Burns intentionally and maliciously upends her life, albeit through accepted social conventions. Score is much better in the second half.

Great photography from Frank Prinzi. Nice, patient editing from Susan Graef.

Holly doesn’t have a great character here; Burns ignored her too much in the first half to setup the second, but she gives an excellent performance. The stuff she gets to do in the second half, it’s like a reward for having to suffer through the first half’s weaker scenes. Bon Jovi gives a strong performance and once Burns, as an actor, gets to the Springsteen section, he really comes through as well.

No Looking Back has more than its share of problems, all of them (with the exception of the music) director Burns’s fault. It’s also pretty darn great; again, all Burns’s fault.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Frank Prinzi; edited by Susan Graef; music by Joe Delia; production designer, Thérèse DePrez; produced by Ted Hope, Michael Nozik, and Burns; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Lauren Holly (Claudia), Edward Burns (Charlie), Jon Bon Jovi (Michael), Connie Britton (Kelly), Blythe Danner (Claudia’s Mom), Nick Sandow (Goldie), Jennifer Esposito (Teresa), Welker White (Missy), John Ventimiglia (Tony the Pizza Guy), and Kathleen Doyle (Mrs. Ryan).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | EDWARD BURNS.

Detachment (2011, Tony Kaye)

Detachment is not a message film. Kaye gives it a pseudo-documentary feel and does presents definite thesis about the public education in the United States. Except Detachment isn’t really about that message… it’s about how that setting specifically affects Adrien Brody’s protagonist.

Until the final sequence anyway; it’s one sequence too many. Kaye flubs on an ideal finish because he’s got too many endings and tries too hard to make the important message one fit. Until then, though, Detachment is nearly flawless.

Carl Lund’s script is brilliantly structured. Brody is a short-term substitute teacher. The film opens with him taking a thirty day assignment, giving the film a definite timeline. Lund and Kaye then bring other elements into Brody’s sphere, such as a fetching fellow teacher (Christina Hendricks) and, more importantly, a teenage prostitute (Sami Gayle). Detachment never shirks from its more difficult scenes, even though Kaye does sometimes get too frantic. The film presents Brody with a couple exceptionally difficult scenes and he essays them indescribably well.

He and Gayle’s story arc informs on his arc as the sub, while Brody’s solo arc with his dying grandfather, Louis Zorich, informs back on both. Absolutely brilliant character study plotting.

Kaye’s direction is good, his photography is better. James Caan is the most dynamic in the supporting cast, but Blythe Danner, William Petersen and Lucy Liu are all excellent too. Gayle’s great.

Detachment‘s not perfect… but there are a lot of perfect things about it. It’s an achievement.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed and photographed by Tony Kaye; written by Carl Lund; edited by Barry Alexander Brown and Geoffrey Richman; music by The Newton Brothers; production designer, Jade Healy; produced by Greg Shapiro, Lund, Bingo Gubelmann, Chris Papavasiliou, Austin Stark and Benji Kohn; released by Tribeca Film.

Starring Adrien Brody (Henry Barthes), Sami Gayle (Erica), Betty Kaye (Meredith), Louis Zorich (Grampa), Marcia Gay Harden (Principal Carol Dearden), James Caan (Mr. Charles Seaboldt), Christina Hendricks (Ms. Sarah Madison), Lucy Liu (Dr. Doris Parker), Blythe Danner (Ms. Perkins), Tim Blake Nelson (Mr. Wiatt), William Petersen (Mr. Sarge Kepler), Bryan Cranston (Mr. Dearden) and Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Mr. Mathias).


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Meet the Parents (2000, Jay Roach)

Meet the Parents requires an extraordinary suspension of disbelief. It’s an absurdist comedy, but the presence of Robert De Niro and–maybe even more so–Blythe Danner imply Parents is based in some kind of reality.

So the simplest thing–believing Teri Polo could be a well-adjusted adult after growing up with De Niro as a father–becomes Parents’s first hurdle. She and Ben Stiller have only the mildest chemistry and it only goes downhill as the film gets more absurd (and more funny).

Director Roach isn’t capable enough to make that romance, which should be the primary focus of Parents narratively, work, so he concentrates on De Niro and Stiller being funny together. It works. Stiller and De Niro are very funny together. While Stiller actually gives a good performance, De Niro’s is problematic. His best moments are either with Danner or Stiller. When De Niro has to play off Owen Wilson, it feels wrong, like De Niro’s doing a “Saturday Night Live” sketch mocking the film.

Roach’s inabilities carry over into the technical aspects as well. He can’t decide how realistic he wants Parents to play–the film opens with a series of home video shots and there’s some Steadicam later on, but it’s mostly static. It doesn’t necessarily need to choose, but it’s clear Roach is simply incapable of making the decision.

Towards the end, Parents gets very long. It can’t handle with the return to sensibly behaving characters. The acting helps get it through.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jay Roach; screenplay by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg, based on a story by Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke; director of photography, Peter James; edited by Greg Hayden and Jon Poll; music by Randy Newman; production designer, Rusty Smith; produced by Robert De Niro, Roach, Jane Rosenthal and Nancy Tenenbaum; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Robert De Niro (Jack Byrnes), Ben Stiller (Greg Focker), Teri Polo (Pam Byrnes), Blythe Danner (Dina Byrnes), James Rebhorn (Dr. Larry Banks), Jon Abrahams (Denny Byrnes), Phyllis George (Linda Banks), Kali Rocha (Atlantic American Flight Attendant), Thomas McCarthy (Dr. Bob Banks), Nicole DeHuff (Deborah Byrnes) and Owen Wilson (Kevin Rawley).


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