Tag Archives: Carter Burwell

The Spanish Prisoner (1997, David Mamet)

Every moment, every line of dialogue, every shot–every use of sound–is so precise in The Spanish Prisoner, it’s sometimes hard to comprehend of Mamet put it all together. There are not a handful of precise moments, or a few precise scenes. Minute after minute, from the first shot, everything in the film is precision.

But none of the filmmaking precision–Carter Burwell’s score is the most obvious, but Gabriel Beristain’s photography and especially Barbara Tulliver’s editing are essential components as well–none of these components would matter without the acting. Between Ricky Jay, who delivers his lines–usually quotes–with enough memorability, even though Mamet never makes them obvious, the viewer can call back to them and how they relate to the film’s events.

Or lead Campbell Scott, who is simultaneously sympathetic and annoying because of his deep-seated desire for wealth, so much it causes him to ignore a possible romance with nice, regular girl Rebecca Pidgeon. She’s a little annoying herself, which often implies the pair is perfect for one another.

The important part about Scott, Pidgeon, Ben Gazzara (who has the perfect voice for Mamet dialogue), Jay, Felicity Huffman and Steve Martin (cast against type as a mystery man) is how they’re able to sell their roles. Mamet’s dialogue should put a glass pane between the viewer and The Spanish Prisoner, the unreality should pulse, but thanks to the cast (and Mamet’s direction) it feels realer than real.

It is an exceptional piece of filmmaking.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by David Mamet; director of photography, Gabriel Beristain; edited by Barbara Tulliver; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Tim Galvin; produced by Jean Doumanian; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Campbell Scott (Joe Ross), Rebecca Pidgeon (Susan Ricci), Steve Martin (Jimmy Dell), Ben Gazzara (Mr. Klein), Felicity Huffman (Pat McCune), Lionel Mark Smith (Detective Jones) and Ricky Jay (George Lang).


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It Takes Two (1988, David Beaird)

It Takes Two features a dream sequence set in protagonist George Newbern’s stomach. It looks cheaper than an antacid commercial.

The movie’s filled with fake Southern accents–Newbern loses the accent after about fifteen minutes, right before he gets to the big city (Dallas) where he needs to buy an imitation Lamborghini from some seedy city folks.

It Takes Two doesn’t like big city folks, Mexicans or blacks much, but big city folks and Mexicans are worst.

I’d been curious about the film because of Newbern, who appeared in this one at the start of his film career. It apparently stalled it.

The second unit shots of Dallas are fantastic, Beaird’s not a bad director and the film has an amazing score from Carter Burwell, so it’s occasionally watchable. Newbern’s playing a rube and he’s not terrible besides the accent. Leslie Hope is his Machiavellian fiancée. If she’s supposed to be shrilly evil, she does a good job (except her accent). Kimberly Foster is a lot better as the other woman, but she’s got an actual character. Or at least the semblance of one.

Some decent supporting performances from Barry Corbin, Anthony Geary, Patrika Darbo and Frances Lee McCain. Bill Boleander looks like he’s reading from the script on set. Marco Perella is pretty awful too.

Peter Deming’s fantastic cinematography gives the film a far more reputable feel than it deserves.

It’s all okay though, because the ungodly Foster gets her comeuppance.

Heinous is a good adjective for the movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Beaird; written by Richard Christian Matheson and Thomas E. Szollosi; director of photography, Peter Deming; edited by David Garfield; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Richard Hoover; produced by Robert Lawrence; released by United Artists.

Starring George Newbern (Travis Rogers), Leslie Hope (Stephanie Lawrence), Kimberly Foster (Jonni Tigersmith), Barry Corbin (George Lawrence), Anthony Geary (Wheel), Frances Lee McCain (Joyce Rogers), Patrika Darbo (Dee Dee), Marco Perella (Dave) and Bill Bolender (Judd Rogers).


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Psycho III (1986, Anthony Perkins)

I’m a little upset. Anthony Perkins only directed two pictures and one of them–this one–was written by Charles Edward Pogue. Pogue’s a bit of punchline, but at least most of Psycho III is well-plotted. His dialogue, especially at the beginning, is iffy, but it might also have been Perkins getting used to directing actors.

Psycho III takes place a month after Psycho II. While II was a really sensitive attempt to follow up on a famous cinema character, it ended weakly. III attempts, eventually, to right the misstep. I can’t figure out why Maltin, for instance, says this one’s played for laughs. It’s even sadder in some ways than the second film, with Perkins’s Norman finding the hint of real redemption and real human concern, only to have it destroyed.

Perkins, I think, did stage work and he directs the good actors in Psycho III like stage actors. The scenes with him and Diana Scarwid, for example, are just lovely, the two of them really understanding how to share the space and the time. Scenes with Jeff Fahey, not so much. Fahey’s awful in Psycho III and it’s sort of shocking no one realized the attempted rapist–Fahey’s establishing characteristic–was a villain deserving of a spectacular end.

Though the IMDb trivia says he was supposedly–initially–the villain.

Unfortunately, the film ends on its own misstep.

But it’s a fine ride to it. Especially with Carter Burwell’s fantastic (synthesizer-heavy?) score and Bruce Surtees’s luscious photography.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Perkins; screenplay by Charles Edward Pogue, based on characters created by Robert Bloch; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by David E. Blewitt; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Henry Bumstead; produced by Hilton A. Green; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Diana Scarwid (Maureen Coyle), Jeff Fahey (Duane Duke), Roberta Maxwell (Tracy Venable), Hugh Gillin (Sheriff John Hunt), Lee Garlington (Myrna) and Robert Alan Browne (Ralph Statler).


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Blood Simple (1984, Joel Coen)

I’m pretty sure I saw the Blood Simple director’s cut twice in the theater. Seems like I did. The second time I helped a couple underage Coen fans get in, and I already knew the recut was a disappointment. I got the original cut from the UK, where it used to be available and might still be found, and waited almost ten years to watch it. I’m glad I did. I can appreciate it more.

What Joel Coen does in Blood Simple is adapt the Western for interiors, visually speaking. There are sweeping camera movements more at home in Monument Valley than in a loft, but there’s Coen using them anyway. It’s impossible to identify every moment of greatness in Blood Simple‘s filmmaking, because it’s probably every frame. From thirty-five seconds in to the film, I was already stuffed–it’s a sumptuous (or decadent, the word the wife prefers–in general, not specifically for the film) experience. Every scene is a wonder. It’s not just the sound, editing, music, cinematography, composition, dialogue–which is the best they’ve ever written–it’s everything together; it’s the experience of watching an endlessly brilliant film. It’s one of the best films of the 1980s, like a combination of late 1970s John Carpenter and early 1980s John Sayles. The tone of both those filmmakers fuses in Blood Simple, creating something different and singular.

Blood Simple is free of the Coen Brothers brand–starting with The Hudsucker Proxy, but almost with Raising Arizona, part of a Coen Brothers film is acknowledging it’s a Coen Brothers film. Except Blood Simple isn’t a Coen Brothers film in that sense. The silliness isn’t there. Usually, the silliness is only absent in their non-beloved films (with recent exceptions), but there’s no fluff on Blood Simple, no fat. It’s a Coen Brothers film about real people, not their standard caricatures. The acting and writing really come together to make something different. She’s the least assuming, but Frances McDormand turns in a great performance. I didn’t even realize, until about half-way in to the film, McDormand’s developed an on-screen persona these days. It’s nice to see her without. Dan Hedaya plays the second most sympathetic character in the film and he’s a complete terror. When the bad guy gets sympathy, somebody’s doing something right. M. Emmet Walsh is good as the villain, John Getz is good as the lover who gets between husband and wife Hedaya and McDormand. The other really great performance, which I did remember from the last two times, is Samm-Art Williams, who’s done little other acting work, but he’s fantastic.

Blood Simple is filled with an energy it’d be hard for the Coen Brothers to keep up these days (they aren’t hungry anymore and haven’t been for at least fifteen years), but what’s so telling is how much they disrespected their first film when they went back to recut it. Either they’d forgotten what made it great, or they hated it and wanted the film to somehow “fit” better with their modern successes. Unfortunately, I suspect it’s the latter. Otherwise, they’d have made some more films approaching this one’s caliber. But seriously, it’d be impossible to surpass it. Blood Simple is stunning… and it’s a tragedy they’ve never made this version available–readily available–on DVD.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Coen; screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen; photography by Barry Sonnenfeld; edited by Roderick Jaynes and Don Wiegmann; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Jane Musky; produced by Ethan Coen; released by Circle Films.

Starring John Getz (Ray), Frances McDormand (Abby), Dan Hedaya (Julian Marty), M. Emmet Walsh (Private Detective) and Samm-Art Williams (Meurice).


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