Tag Archives: Bruce Dern

The Hole (2009, Joe Dante)

The Hole is, I believe, intended to be a family-friendly (I can’t believe PG-13 movies are now supposed to be family-friendly) horror film directed by Joe Dante. As opposed to Dante directing a family-friendly horror film. It’s Joe Dante doing work for hire, something I’m not really familiar with him doing often.

Dante’s direction here is fantastic, even if there are the occasional “3D ready” shots. He actually doesn’t do too many of them and instead concentrates on maintaining a constantly ominous atmosphere. Only after the story resolves itself does the narrative get predictable and start falling apart. I’ve never seen those “Goosebumps” videos, but I imagine they’re a lot like the last fifteen minutes of The Hole.

But until then, it goes very, very well.

All of the credit goes to Dante, who doesn’t just construct the atmosphere, he gets good performances out of his young cast. The film’s short and small–it takes place almost entirely in one house–but the low budget doesn’t reveal itself until the end, when it wouldn’t matter anyway. So Dante’s basically got three actors–Chris Massoglia, Nathan Gamble and Haley Bennett–acting scared in a restricted area.

The script unfortunately requires Massoglia to frequently be way too thoughtless when it comes to younger brother Gamble’s safety, but Dante makes it painless.

Teri Polo has almost nothing to do. Her limited screen time still drags.

The Hole should have been a lot better, but it’s still rather decent. And just beautifully directed.

Great Dick Miller cameo too.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; written by Mark L. Smith; director of photography, Theo van de Sande; edited by Marshall Harvey; music by Javier Navarrete; production designer, Brentan Harron; produced by Claudio Fäh, David Lancaster, Michel Litvak and Vicki Sotheran; released by Bold Films.

Starring Chris Massoglia (Dane Thompson), Haley Bennett (Julie Campbell), Nathan Gamble (Lucas Thompson), Bruce Dern (Carl) and Teri Polo (Susan).


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Last Man Standing (1996, Walter Hill)

Before Last Man Standing came out–when it was, presumably, going to be a hit because Willis was on one of his career upswings–I remember seeing Walter Hill say this film, his film, was going to improve on the source material (that source material being Kurosawa’s Yojimbo).

Hill borrows more liberally from the first remake of that film, A Fistful of Dollars, and adds some idiotic ingredients. The narration from Bruce Willis is atrocious, which isn’t a surprise, but worse is Willis’s performance. He got a big payday for this one and he’s clearly not interested in it, which isn’t surprising. It’s visibly–thanks to terrible performances from Bruce Dern, Ned Eisenberg, Michael Imperioli and Leslie Mann–a disaster. Hill’s script is full of lousy dialogue and is poorly paced, as he doesn’t seem to understand the viewer is going to recognize some of his “homage” to Dollars.

The music, from Ry Cooder, is awful. The opening, with it and Willis’s narration, would be enough to get up and walk out of the theater and demand a refund. It was a huge bomb (it barely made enough money in the States to cover Willis’s paycheck, let alone the other costs).

Hill doesn’t seem to understand what he should and shouldn’t be doing. Instead, he makes this confusing reality where the viewer has to participate instead of enjoy… and Willis brings zero charisma to the role. He does a lousy Clint Eastwood.

It’s not even worth watching as a curiosity.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Walter Hill; screenplay by Hill, based on a film by Kikushima Ryuzo and Kurosawa Akira; director of photography, Lloyd Ahern II; edited by Freeman A. Davies; music by Ry Cooder; production designer, Gary Wissner; produced by Hill and Arthur M. Sarkissian; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Bruce Willis (John Smith), Bruce Dern (Sheriff Ed Galt), William Sanderson (Joe Monday), Christopher Walken (Hickey), David Patrick Kelly (Doyle), Karina Lombard (Felina), Ned Eisenberg (Fredo Strozzi), Alexandra Powers (Lucy Kolinski), Michael Imperioli (Giorgio Carmonte), Ken Jenkins (Capt. Tom Pickett), R.D. Call (Jack McCool), Ted Markland (Deputy Bob), Leslie Mann (Wanda) and Patrick Kilpatrick (Finn).


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Diggstown (1992, Michael Ritchie)

I forgot MGM still made movies in the 1990s. The aura of bankruptcy and failure has surrounded Leo for so long… it’s distracting. I remember my Diggstown laserdisc sleeve. It’s been at least ten years since I’ve seen the movie. It’s still a great time and I’m left, as I always was when finishing it, perplexed. How did James Woods not have a successful film career as a leading man? Diggstown might have even his last major lead role.

Diggstown has a large cast–figure twenty recognizable cast members–and the casting is brilliant. It might have been the first movie I ever saw Oliver Platt in. The film’s broken up into three parts (not the acts, however). The prison prologue, the set-up, then the long boxing sequence (Louis Gossett Jr. fighting ten guys, which is why the cast is so large). Each section feels different, with Woods owning the prologue, but Platt getting the most attention in the opening of the set-up. It’s a bombastic role and Platt’s perfect for it. There isn’t a bad performance in the entire film (Ritchie’s a fine director of actors), but the acting from Platt, Woods and Gossett is just amazing. Each one of them turn in singular performances–so it’s unfortunate Diggstown doesn’t offer them much more to do.

The film’s funny, endearing and constantly enjoyable, but there’s a certain lack of depth to it. There’s nuance in the film–when Gossett and Woods meet up at the beginning, they’re having an intricately guarded conversation, combining the acting, the direction and the editing. But the nuance doesn’t carry over to the film. It has a simple close. There isn’t much opportunity for a deeper story here, but there’s some (the flirtation between Woods and Heather Graham evaporates as the boxing part of the film begins).

Instead, it’s just a good time, with a great, self-aware performance from Bruce Dern. I’m not always a fan, but when Dern’s on, he’s really on. The supporting cast–John Short, Duane Davis, even Michael DeLorenzo–has some standouts as well.

Diggstown is a well put together film–Ritchie doesn’t have a single unsure directorial moment, every move is confident–and it makes Diggstown one of the finer junior members of the era’s films. Diggstown is a contained, inclusive filmic narrative–the viewer isn’t supposed to engage with Woods as a celebrity, only his performance. There’s even a “Roots” reference and, even if it was supposed to be an in-joke with Gossett, it doesn’t come off as one.

Before I finish up, I need to mention James Newton Howard’s score. The score’s great, really changing pace as the film does–not only does Diggstown have those twenty or so characters for the viewer to remember, it has a lot of locations too–Howard keeps up with everything, developing the score inline with the narrative.

On one hand, I wish Diggstown had a little more depth–the film has room for it, Ritchie and the cast can certainly handle it, but maybe not… It’s a solid, smart, well-made comedy. I remember when I first saw it, on videotape, I couldn’t wait to see what Woods and Platt did next. Platt did well enough, Woods provided a frequent disappointment. Even this time through, sixteen years after it came out, it’s hard not to be excited at the talent on display in the film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Ritchie; screenplay by Steven McKay, based on a novel by Leonard Wise; director of photography, Gerry Fisher; edited by Don Zimmerman; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Stephen Hendrickson; produced by Robert Schaffel; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer.

Starring James Woods (Gabriel Caine), Louis Gossett Jr. (Roy Palmer), Bruce Dern (John Gillon), Oliver Platt (Fitz), Heather Graham (Emily Forrester), Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb (Wolf Forrester), Thomas Wilson Brown (Robby Gillon), Duane Davis (Hambone Busby), David Fresco (Fish) and Willie Green (Hammerhead Hagan).


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The Driver (1978, Walter Hill)

There are limits to how much patented Walter Hill machismo one person can take and The Driver pushes its limit early on. Well, maybe not too early on, since the movie runs ninety minutes. It doesn’t help Ryan O’Neal doesn’t talk, Isabelle Adjani chokes through her English dialogue, and Bruce Dern turns in an exceptionally lousy performance. Dern’s bad acting is is a giant flare warning one away from The Driver. No one trying to make a good film–I mean Adjani’s character could just be learning English too–would allow Dern’s performance. But Hill isn’t trying to make a good movie. He’s trying to make a tough, macho movie, making his casting choice of O’Neal hilarious.

O’Neal’s not particularly bad–since he doesn’t have much dialogue, there’s a lot less of a chance it’s going to be as terrible as the other characters’ dialogue–but he looks lost. His expression reminds of a deer trapped in the headlights, or an actor who stumbled on to the wrong set one morning and couldn’t get off.

Hill spent a lot of time choreographing his chase scenes, but they’re not any good. They’re gimmicky and boring. He reduces the police cars to objects, not vehicles containing people, in an attempt to desensitize the viewer for when O’Neal causes the cop cars to flip over or crash. Then he makes the cop hunting O’Neal (Dern in that atrocious performance) a vicious, corrupt bastard, so the audience will immediately side with baby-face O’Neal. I mean, he was in Paper Moon, after all.

Maybe if Hill’s direction weren’t so artless, The Driver would be a little more tolerable. There’s a mythic director’s cut to the film, running thirty minutes–thirty terrible minutes, I’m sure–longer. I can’t imagine how much more bad dialogue, boring action and lousy performances one film could contain. Dern’s real bad in this film, I’m not exaggerating; it’s one of the worst performances I can remember seeing from a movie not lensed in someone’s backyard. And even the music’s bad. But on the plus side, I think the opening titles were competently presented. No visible misspellings or capitalization errors.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Walter Hill; director of photography, Philip Lathrop; edited by Tina Hirsch and Robert K. Lambert; music by Michael Small; production designer, Harry Horner; produced by Lawrence Gordon; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ryan O’Neal (The Driver), Bruce Dern (The Detective), Isabelle Adjani (The Player), Ronee Blakley (The Connection), Matt Clark (Red Plainclothesman), Felice Orlandi (Gold Plainclothesman), Joseph Walsh (Glasses) and Rudy Ramos (Teeth).


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