Tag Archives: Chris Sarandon

Fright Night (1985, Tom Holland)

So much of Fright Night is humdrum, with the occasional energy pulses whenever Chris Sarandon gets to be vampirish, I didn’t really expect it to get any better. I certainly didn’t expect director Holland to go all out on the special effects or even Roddy McDowall to get such good material. I also didn’t expect Stephen Geoffreys to go from pointless background to constant annoyance; Geoffreys isn’t any good to begin with, so when he gets even worse, it claws. Especially as he gets one of the great effects sequences.

Unfortunately, Holland hasn’t set Fright Night up to be easily saved, not even by effects sequences. Especially not as the technically superior finale lacks much dramatic oomph. Fright Night starts being about William Ragsdale’s curious, then terrified teenager. The part requires someone who can get away not just with being nosy, but a jerk to girlfriend Amanda Bearse. Ragsdale’s got absolutely no charisma. Five minutes in the first act feels like a half hour, as Ragsdale starts to investigate new next door neighbor Sarandon while ignoring Bearse and palling around with Geoffreys. Only it turns out the palling makes Geoffreys miserable and he feels picked on; it can’t be any other characters who pick on him, because there’s no one else in the movie. Holland isn’t interested in directing a high school movie.

There’s the requisite eighties club scene, however. Fright Night does have a club scene. It’s even a good club scene–Sarandon seduces Bearse, while Ragsdale goofs off trying to figure out a payphone. Better photography would’ve helped; Jan Kiesser’s photography is always competent, but never excellent. Still Sarandon and Bearse are good in the scene. Sarandon plays the part of bloodsucker as eighties thoughtful stud well. So well his relationship with his charmless doofus sidekick Jonathan Stark never works. Seeing him have a subplot with Bearse, some character development, it’s nice.

Bearse has a terrible part. She’s got no chemistry with Ragsdale, which would be hard because Ragsdale’s actively unappealing. But she does all right as a reincarnated lady love of a vampire. Of course, it’s kind of creepy since she’s seventeen and Sarandon is forty-three and Holland does nothing to establish Bearse’s character other than her being a prude who’s better that trig than mathematic dummy Ragsdale.

So the two vampire seduction scenes are good. Just a tad too exploitative. Even if you remove the female actor being underage, Holland really doesn’t want to deal with any of the repercussions of the film’s events. Fright Night is a spoofy comedy. It’s also a terrible scary movie. And it’s a special effects spectacular. It’s sometimes exquisite–though in McDowall and Sarandon’s performances. None of the other actors give unqualified good performances; they need stronger direction and Holland apparently doesn’t give it to them. Maybe he’s just in a hurry to the never hinted at special effects finale but even it lacks personality.

The score is another big disconnect. For example, when Ragsdale is suspiciously peeping on Sarandon, Brad Fiedel’s score goes to its synthpop vampire seduction thing. And Holland doesn’t seem to notice it doing nothing for the film or Ragdale’s performance. Ragsdale’s what happens if Billy Peltzer is unlikable.

Oddly enough, the seduction part of the score ends up being the most effective, if only because editor Kent Beyda screws up the rest of Fiedel’s work. Fright Night is not well-edited. Almost never. And, along with the frequent, unchecked bombastic music and Kiesser’s flat photography, the filmmaking itself acts as a barrier. Nowhere near as much as Ragsdale being an unlikable shit (maybe because he’s at least seven years too old for the part), but it does act as a barrier. Fright Night lacks mood. Holland’s all over the place, often competently or better, but his direction is moodless and needs to be quite the opposite.

Also Ragsdale is really, really, really, really bland until Bearse, Geoffreys, and McDowall take over. And Geoffreys is really bland too, but he’s not as damaging the overall experience.

So once McDowall’s part is bigger, Fright Night starts to get better, then it gets good, then it chokes on an epilogue. So after opening too flat to make an impression, Fright Night still ends up being a disappointment.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Tom Holland; director of photography, Jan Kiesser; edited by Kent Beyda; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, John DeCuir Jr.; produced by Herb Jaffe; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring William Ragsdale (Charley Brewster), Roddy McDowall (Peter Vincent), Chris Sarandon (Jerry Dandrige), Amanda Bearse (Amy Peterson), Stephen Geoffreys (Ed Thompson), Jonathan Stark (Billy Cole), Art Evans (Detective Lennox), and Dorothy Fielding (Judy Brewster).


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Dog Day Afternoon (1975, Sidney Lumet)

Besides Al Pacino, there are other actors in Dog Day Afternoon. Some of them give fantastic performances too. But, even with those fantastic performances, every time Pacino is alone on screen, whether closeup or not, monologue or not, it feels like there’s no one else in the film besides him. He doesn’t command it or walk away with it… the film’s his performance and his performance is the film, right down to the last scene.

Some of the other particularly fantastic performances are, in no particular order, John Cazale, Penelope Allen, James Broderick, Charles Durning and Chris Sarandon. Okay, maybe I saved Sarandon for last so I don’t forget to mention the specifics. I had no idea it was Sarandon in the film. Never would I have imaged he could have given such a good performance (it was his first major film work).

Cazale’s sturdy. He’s great without being exceptional–the performance isn’t a surprise. Pacino, as good as he can be, is still a surprise here. He’s not in a movie star role and Pacino almost always does those (or has been since Dog Day); I’d forgotten the greatness of his performance here. It’s been… maybe fifteen years since I last saw the film. Since then, he’s been in a lot of lousy movies to cloud my memory.

I think this time is the first I’ve seen Dog Day Afternoon in its original aspect ratio. Lumet’s direction is so sublimely perfect, I can’t believe he doesn’t have more admirers.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Frank Pierson, based on the Life magazine article by P.F. Kluge and Thomas Moore; director of photography, Victor J. Kemper; edited by Dede Allen; production designer, Charles Bailey; produced by Martin Bregman and Martin Elfand; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Al Pacino (Sonny Wortzik), John Cazale (Sal), Charles Durning (Det. Sgt. Eugene Moretti), Chris Sarandon (Leon Shermer), Sully Boyar (Mulvaney), Penelope Allen (Sylvia), James Broderick (Sheldon), Carol Kane (Jenny), Beulah Garrick (Margaret), Sandra Kazan (Deborah), Marcia Jean Kurtz (Miriam), Amy Levitt (Maria), John Marriott (Howard), Estelle Omens (Edna), Gary Springer (Stevie) and Lance Henriksen (Murphy).


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Child’s Play (1988, Tom Holland)

Child’s Play barely makes any sense. Or maybe some of it does, but there’s a big voodoo component and it gets used as a crutch for the more fantastical elements (with its own problems with rationality). But the film opens with a shootout in downtown Chicago–Child’s Play uses its Chicago locations very well, never excessive–between cop Chris Sarandon and serial killer Brad Dourif. Serial killer Dourif who has a sidekick and doesn’t use a gun to kill his victims. My suspension of disbelief can go for the possessed doll out to kill those who wronged him, but a serial killer with a sidekick? It’s a more interesting story than a killer doll.

But the film also has some problems deciding what way it wants to go. The script can’t decide if it wants to convince the audience–or try to convince the audience–six year-old Alex Vincent has snapped and is talking to his doll and killing people… or if it’s the doll. The indecision doesn’t last long, but it does come after the rather literal opening where Dourif recites a spell while touching the doll. The trailer never has the money shot (the animated doll), but it certainly goes far towards suggesting it… so maybe theater-goers in 1988 knew what to expect. Given four sequels, even though I’d never seen the film before, it was hard to imagine it could have been anything but the doll.

The killer doll is maybe not the most ludicrous idea for a slasher movie, but Child’s Play isn’t really a slasher movie. The thriller elements play a lot more–down to the out-of-control speeding car going through Chicago–and Holland never lets Dourif (voicing the doll) go over the top, even after the doll’s got its own scenes. The special effects are great on it too.

Acting helps too. Dourif’s serial killer might not make much sense, but his performance is excellent. Sarandon’s solid as the cop (though I question his sweater for the opening shootout… it just doesn’t seem like something a movie cop would wear). Catherine Hicks is okay as Vincent’s disbelieving mother. She’s maybe the film’s weakest performance, especially since Dinah Manoff (as her friend) is so good. Young Vincent might not give the most soulful youth performance ever or anything, but he makes the film. It isn’t so much his dialogue, but how Holland directs him physically. It’s a strong performance.

Holland’s best scene comes at the end–there’s a quiet Halloween homage–and it’s worth the wait. Early in the film, Holland has to do a lot of sight gags to confuse the viewer (well, to create the impression of confusing the viewer), and he repeats them a few times… The film also cheats a lot, like why does Vincent have money to ride the ‘L’ or how does Hicks know where all the homeless hang out (she visits multiple places). The film skips over some of the post-murder stuff, just to create–first, in the viewer’s mind, then in the characters’–some suspicion Vincent is the guilty party. The omissions get obvious after a while.

But Child’s Play works. It’s not exactly scary or disquieting or uncanny… but it’s entertaining and suspenseful.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tom Holland; screenplay by Don Mancini, John Lafia and Holland; director of photography, Bill Butler; edited by Roy E. Peterson and Edward Warschilka; music by Joe Renzetti; production designer, Daniel A. Lomino; produced by David Kirschner; released by United Artists.

Starring Catherine Hicks (Karen Barclay), Chris Sarandon (Mike Norris), Alex Vincent (Andy Barclay), Brad Dourif (Charles Lee Ray), Dinah Manoff (Maggie Peterson), Tommy Swerdlow (Jack Santos), Jack Colvin (Dr. Ardmore), Neil Giuntoli (Eddie Caputo), Juan Ramírez (Peddler) and Alan Wilder (Mr. Criswell).


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My Sassy Girl (2008, Yann Samuell)

There is a star in My Sassy Girl–and it’s not Jesse Bradford, who handles the leading romantic comedy man role effortless–it’s cinematographer Eric Schmidt, who makes New York City vibrant. There’s a lot of good in Yann Samuell’s direction (his composition is fantastic, his fast-fowarded transitions are, no shock, atrocious), but Schmidt’s cinematography brings that composition to life. There’s a soft texture to it, almost artificial, as though the filmmakers shot in Canada and put in digital backdrops (they didn’t). Schmidt’s idealized New York never looks like Hollywood New York, which is nice. Instead, it kind of looks like Ed Burns’s New York, if Burns were doing a mainstream (though not exactly, more on it later) romantic comedy. Had Burns done this romantic comedy… even made notes on a bar napkin… I wouldn’t be leading this post raving about the cinematographer.

There are two damning defects to My Sassy Girl–and not even the stupid fast-forwarded transitions, which I too would guess as one of them. In order of importance, they’re Elisha Cuthbert and the production. Cuthbert’s got a couple problems. First, she’s awful. Second, My Sassy Girl is a remake of a Korean film–and it follows enough of that film’s story to allow for comparisons to the original actress. They aren’t just unfavorable to Cuthbert, they’re withering. Cuthbert doesn’t have a single good scene in the film–there’s one moment at the end when I thought she was going to have one, but then she pulls through and doesn’t.

Some of the problem with Cuthbert–I mean, she can’t really be unappealing all the time, right, someone cast her in the film–is the production. My Sassy Girl, besides the dumb fast-forwarding transitions, maintains a very strange tone for an attempt at a Hollywood romantic comedy. Samuell’s French and apparently the producers let him do some stuff and it really doesn’t work. But those flourishes are at the beginning and are just bad exposition. The tone for the film’s big romantic comedy ending is a clingy melancholic one, almost like a tearjerker. What works in a Korean film–which had a lot of playfulness this remake flushes–does not work in an American one, not because of culture or filmmaking skill, but because this film runs ninety minutes, the original runs two hours and twenty minutes. What’s getting cut is important stuff….

A lot of the cut material would have been for Bradford, who barely has a character. He and his movie friend–because it’s unclear how they’d ever become friends–camp out on a rooftop underneath the Empire State Building. The story of how these two guys decide to camp out on a rooftop underneath the Empire State Building… a lot more interesting than anything going on in the film. Too bad it happens off screen.

Bradford manages the narration as well as can be expected, but it’s bad. At times, he almost looks embarrassed and he should be. Bradford’s performance–as well as Chris Sarandon, in a small role–make the film’s failure for legitimacy even more glaring. It’s clear the filmmakers were going for something different than the traditional romantic comedy, something staying in the spirit of the original, but it’s incompetently handled. The title makes no sense in the remake’s context (it’s a story point in the original). Such a big oversight is something I’d think screenwriter Victor Levin would notice and remedy, but he doesn’t.

It’s not a disappointment at all (in fact, once Schmidt starts shooting those New York exteriors, it’s frequently lovely… visually anyway), just because it opens so poorly and has to get better. And Cuthbert’s bad from the start, so there’s no expectation she’ll get any better. At least it’s something standard handled with a more artful touch.

And Bradford does make a lot of it worthwhile.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Yann Samuell; screenplay by Victor Levin, based on the film by Kwak Jae-Young and the novel by Kim Ho-sik; director of photography, Eric Schmidt; edited by Anita Brandt-Burgoyne; music by David Kitay; production designer, Kalina Ivanov; produced by Paul Brooks, Mark Morgan, Guy Oseary and Jay Polstein; released by Gold Circle Films.

Starring Jesse Bradford (Charlie Bellow), Elisha Cuthbert (Jordan Roark), Austin Basis (Leo), Chris Sarandon (Dr. Roark), Jay Patterson (Roger Bellow), Tom Aldredge (Old Man), Louis Mustillo (Doorman), Brian Reddy (Mr. Phipps) and Joanna Gleason (Aunt Sally).


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