Tag Archives: Daniel Stern

Born in East L.A. (1987, Cheech Marin)

Born in East L.A. is a much lighter comedy than expected. Maybe not more than writer-director-star Cheech Marin portends—and a lot of the film’s ineffectiveness isn’t first time feature director Marin’s fault, he needed one of his four editors to have some clue about creating narrative continuity. And while his cinematographer—Álex Phillips Jr.—isn’t at all incompetent, one does wish he’d have given Marin some pointers about how to frame establishing shots. There are a number of times in the film where it seems like Marin’s setting up a sight gag but… no. He really just doesn’t seem to realize he doesn’t have to shoot in medium shot so much.

Marin’s an L.A. mechanic who goes to pick up a visiting cousin (Paul Rodriguez, in a role cut down what probably ought to be an uncredited mega-cameo) and gets scooped up in an immigration raid. So while Marin’s getting deported, Rodriguez is trying to figure out his way in L.A. He’s staying with Marin and family, but family is out of town, which gets to be a problem since Marin needs someone to come down to the border with his ID so he can return home. The casual, nonspecific, almost benign racism from the border guards—including Jan-Michael Vincent is the boss in one scene, which should probably be uncredited too, even if it wasn’t cut down. Just having creative opening titles would probably help the film a bit.

Anyway, the racism. It doesn’t just date East L.A. it makes the film a very peculiar cultural document. At least in the first fifteen or twenty minutes, because once Marin realizes he can’t sneak across the border, he sets about making some money to buy his way back across.

One of the major plot holes, which may or may not be a result of the cuts, is whether or not his family ever misses him; they’re only supposed to be gone for a week. There’s some stuff with Rodriguez alone at the house and it’s all pretty funny, but doesn’t go anywhere. For a while, Rodriguez is giving the film’s best performance too. Because Marin starts the movie wanting the audience to think he’s a bit of a goon. The opening titles, while they aren’t giving away all the eventual cameos, is all about Marin following a woman (Neith Hunter) around L.A. landmarks and catcalling her. Only, because Marin’s not really good at the shots—if they’re not second unit—it’s never clear she hears his catcalling, which just makes him an ineffective stalker? He’s definitely supposed to be harmless, but it’s not clear how lovable he’s supposed to be for quite a bit longer into the film. When he tells someone about his history in the U.S. Army.

Marin hides he’s got backstory for about sixty of the film’s eighty-five minutes. Odd, odd, odd choice.

Though I suppose when you consider him being a vet who can’t get back into his country… but, wait, 1980s, all the border guards were swell fellows.

Marin’s got some really good gags, some really good jokes, a handful of excellent ideas; he’s able to execute about thirty percent of them satisfactorily. The plot’s pretty traditional, down to greasy scuzball Daniel Stern—but not dangerous greasy scuzball—being Marin’s “boss” and sidekick in Mexico (Stern’s in forced expatriation) and Kamala Lopez as a love interest (though, as she’s eighteen years younger than Marin, he comes off like an uncle, chemistry-wise). They could’ve had someone pretty easily doctor the script. Just saying.

Instead, the film’s a hodgepodge of funny moments and performances—Lopez is more likable than good, while Stern is funnier than good. Producer Peter Macgregor-Scott really should’ve gotten Marin a better crew.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Cheech Marin; director of photography, Álex Phillips Jr.; edited by Don Brochu, Stephen Lovejoy, David Newhouse, and Mike Sheridan; music by Lee Holdridge; production designer, Lynda Burbank; produced by Peter Macgregor-Scott; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Cheech Marin (Rudy), Daniel Stern (Jimmy), Kamala Lopez (Dolores), Paul Rodriguez (Javier), Jan-Michael Vincent (McCalister), Lupe Ontiveros (Rudy’s Mother), and Tony Plana (Feo).


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Diner (1982, Barry Levinson)

I’ve probably seen Diner ten times but I still don’t know where to start with it. Barry Levinson sets the present action between Christmas and New Year’s, so one probably could sit down and chart out what happens on each day. There’s a big basketball bet driving some of the narrative, but mostly just for Mickey Rourke and Ellen Barkin, but also for Kevin Bacon.

And Levinson leaves so much of it unresolved–Bacon, for example–while concentrating (for the finish) on the things he didn’t pay much attention to throughout the film. The film often has this great fifties soundtrack going, which masks its quietness. Even though Levinson writes these amazing dialogue exchanges, the most telling moments for the cast–even at the beginning (Levinson and Stu Linder cut together these amazing sequences from the very start, Peter Sova’s photography helping out a lot, of course)–isn’t what they’re saying. It’s the moments where the characters are silent and thinking.

All of the acting is outstanding. Rourke and Barkin are the best, then Steve Guttenberg and Kevin Bacon… then Tim Daly and Daniel Stern. Not because Daly and Stern are bad, but because Stern has the least to do. Daly has a little more, but Levinson sort of dulls the focus off him as the film progresses. The choices Levinson makes regarding what characters get attention and when are more of his brilliant ones in Diner.

It’s an exceptional motion picture. One appreciates its sublimeness more on each viewing.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Barry Levinson; director of photography, Peter Sova; edited by Stu Linder; music by Bruce Brody and Ivan Král; produced by Jerry Weintraub; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Steve Guttenberg (Edward ‘Eddie’ Simmons), Daniel Stern (Laurence ‘Shrevie’ Schreiber), Mickey Rourke (Robert ‘Boogie’ Sheftell), Kevin Bacon (Timothy Fenwick, Jr.), Tim Daly (William ‘Billy’ Howard), Ellen Barkin (Beth Schreiber), Paul Reiser (Modell), Kathryn Dowling (Barbara), Michael Tucker (Bagel), Jessica James (Mrs. Simmons), Colette Blonigan (Carol Heathrow), Kelle Kipp (Diane), John Aquino (Tank), Claudia Cron (Jane Chisholm),Tom Tammi (Howard Fenwick) and Sharon Ziman (Elyse).


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Breaking Away (1979, Peter Yates)

For a “traditional” underdog story, Breaking Away is exceeding complex. It opens with Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley; neither Steve Tesich’s script nor Yates’s direction emphasizes any over another. Actually, Quaid’s loudmouth gets the most emphasis.

Then the film introduces Barbara Barrie and Paul Dooley as Christopher’s parents and it becomes clear Away will be focused around him. Besides Christopher, only Haley gets any time away from the group (though the group occasionally appears independent of Christopher). I haven’t gotten to how Tesich introduces both major challenges in the film well into its second act.

Meanwhile, there’s Yates’s direction, which is focused on the friendship but also the quietness of the town they live in. Cynthia Scheider’s editing and the sound design are major stars in the picture, especially once the bicycle racing gets more important.

But wait, I forgot to mention Dooley and Barrie have a story independent of Christopher. They orbit him and his friends’s arc, occasionally popping in, but Away is more like seven stories in one. Yates and Tesich show glimpses of the secondary ones; if they’d given them all emphasis, it’d probably run seven hours.

All the acting is outstanding, though Stern has the least to do of the primaries. Quaid and Haley have the hardest jobs; Haley’s the better of the two, but both excel. Christopher’s fantastic.

Dooley and Barrie are wonderful.

Hart Bochner’s good. Robyn Douglass’s amazing in a subtly intricate role.

It’s an outstanding film all around.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Peter Yates; written by Steve Tesich; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Cynthia Scheider; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dennis Christopher (Dave Stoller), Dennis Quaid (Mike), Daniel Stern (Cyril), Jackie Earle Haley (Moocher), Barbara Barrie (Evelyn Stoller), Paul Dooley (Ray Stoller), Robyn Douglass (Katherine), Hart Bochner (Rod), Amy Wright (Nancy) and John Ashton (Mike’s Brother).


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City Slickers (1991, Ron Underwood)

City Slickers is a mid-life crisis comedy. I had forgotten about that aspect of it. All three principals–Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby and Daniel Stern–start the movie in a funk. Well, actually only Crystal. The other two’s problems reveal themselves throughout. Especially Kirby. His backstory takes so long to reveal, it strains believability. It’s not believable his friends would know so little about him.

Anyway, in order for the movie to work, it has to be believable these problems will work themselves out at the end and the trio will be able to happily get on with their lives. It’s a comedy after all.

Except it’s not really about the three of them, it’s about Crystal. So if Crystal’s problem can work itself out… the movie works itself out.

And, within the constraints of the film, it does work. Underwood is able to sell it. It doesn’t make up for the dragging parts of the film, but it does make it work. In fact, it’s a somewhat strange resolution. It’s not subtle, though they never verbalize it; verbalizing it would make Crystal’s character a little… unlikable actually.

Underwood does a good job except when he’s repeatedly zooming in for effect. It just doesn’t work.

Crystal, Kirby and Stern are all good. Crystal gets better when he’s dramatic. Jack Palance and Crystal are great together. The supporting cast in general is strong.

Marc Shaiman’s music is a weak spot.

City Slickers has its ups and downs but it’s fine.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Underwood; written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by O. Nicholas Brown; music by Marc Shaiman; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Irby Smith; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Billy Crystal (Mitch Robbins), Daniel Stern (Phil Berquist), Bruno Kirby (Ed Furillo), Patricia Wettig (Barbara Robbins), Helen Slater (Bonnie Rayburn), Jack Palance (Curly Washburn), Noble Willingham (Clay Stone), Tracey Walter (Cookie), Josh Mostel (Barry Shalowitz), David Paymer (Ira Shalowitz), Bill Henderson (Dr. Ben Jessup), Jeffrey Tambor (Lou), Phill Lewis (Dr. Steven Jessup), Kyle Secor (Jeff), Dean Hallo (T.R.), Karla Tamburrelli (Arlene Berquist) and Yeardley Smith (Nancy).


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