Tag Archives: Danny Elfman

Summer School (1987, Carl Reiner)

There’s an almost magical competency to Summer School. It starts with the opening titles, which are expertly edited to showcase the eventual primary cast members. Not the adults–outside lead Mark Harmon–rather the students. There’s no audible dialogue, just a rock song playing, but there’s enough performance from the actors to give personality to their characters before they get introduced. It’s a magical competency because it’s not just Bud Molin’s editing or Reiner’s direction of the actors or Jeff Franklin’s screenplay–it’s unclear whose idea it was to go with this efficient introduction–but it prepares the viewer for what’s to come. It encourages sympathy to this cast of characters, something the film builds on for quite a while.

Molin’s editing is strong throughout the film, so I guess I’ll talk about he and Reiner first. There’s no gloss to Summer School. Reiner’s most complicated sequence, outside a gore scene where he relies heavily on the effects and Molin, is probably a fender bender. And most of it’s off screen. Instead, Reiner just showcases the actors. None of them are particularly great, but everyone’s likable. Even when their performances are a little thin–admittedly, Richard Steven Horvitz and Fabiana Udenio don’t exactly have the deepest characters–they’re still extremely affable, which is partly due to Franklin’s screenplay.

Summer School has five or six distinct sections. It follows a traditional three act narrative, but Franklin splits those acts. There’s the opening introduction to Harmon, where his gym teacher gets stuck teaching a remedial English class, where he meets Kirstie Alley, where he meets the class of misfits. That section segues into the goofball comedy aspect of the film, where they have madcap misadventures, before moving into the second act where things start to get a little more serious academically. As things get serious academically, then the screenplay treats the students more seriously personally. The film could have a completely natural structure–a six week summer school session with an exam at the end, but it isn’t until late into the second act when the exam becomes important to the narrative. It’s extremely well-plotted and Reiner has a handle on how to pace it all out.

Harmon’s more likable than good. He’s charming and endearing and really spry. It’s impossible to imagine the film without such a physical lead, even though that physicality isn’t necessary to the part. It’s an enthusiasm. Alley’s good as his love interest. She doesn’t have a lot to do but they have enough chemistry to get it through. Robin Thomas is a fantastic vice principal villain (and Alley’s boyfriend).

Of the students, Kelly Jo Minter and Shawnee Smith probably give the best performances. Courtney Thorne-Smith gets the most to do and she’s adequate. No one gets exactly enough because there’s not room in the film for it; they just need to be funny and likable. Dean Cameron and Gary Riley, for example, are funnier than they are good. Patrick Labyorteaux’s sturdy, ditto Ken Olandt.

There are some third act problems when Thomas becomes less of a goof villain and more of a threat, but the film brings it together for the finish. There’s also a strong Danny Elfman score.

Summer School doesn’t worry about being smart, it’s just smartly constructed.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Reiner; screenplay by Jeff Franklin, based on a story by Stuart Birnbaum, David Dashev and Franklin; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by Bud Molin; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, David L. Snyder; produced by Franklin, George Shapiro and Howard West; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Mark Harmon (Freddy Shoop), Kirstie Alley (Robin Bishop), Robin Thomas (Gills), Patrick Labyorteaux (Kevin Winchester), Courtney Thorne-Smith (Pam House), Dean Cameron (Francis ‘Chainsaw’ Gremp), Gary Riley (Dave Frazier), Kelly Jo Minter (Denise Green), Ken Olandt (Larry Kazamias), Shawnee Smith (Rhonda Altobello), Richard Steven Horvitz (Alan Eakian), Fabiana Udenio (Anna-Maria Mazarelli), Duane Davis (Jerome Watkins) and Francis X. McCarthy (Principal Kelban).


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Batman Returns (1992, Tim Burton)

Batman Returns is one of those films I always hope will end a little differently. Tim Burton gets such wonderful performances out of Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer, their penultimate scene always has this glimmer of a different outcome. There’s so much energy between the two actors, such rich characters, it’s tragically unfair they don’t make it.

Keaton and Pfeiffer–actually, more Pfeiffer and Keaton–take up a quarter of Returns’s glorious mess. Burton and screenwriter Daniel Waters don’t have a natural way to tie all of the film’s plots together and they don’t bother trying to find one. Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is the connective tissue, in a lot of ways, to the villains, Christopher Walken and Danny DeVito. Keaton’s Batman just gets thrown in the mix from time to time. Trying to imagine a plot chart for Batman Returns… I think of spaghetti.

But, like I said, Burton doesn’t try to fix that problem. He just makes it the best spaghetti he can. For every plot problem, there’s some amazing visual or wonderful little moment or maybe just DeVito. DeVito’s performance is spellbinding. He creates a villain who’s without humanity and the lack is part of his performance’s appeal. It’s funny.

Great performances, wonderful music from Danny Elfman, beautiful Stefan Czapsky photography, Bo Welch’s amazing production design.

Burton creates a space for these grotesque, complicated, beautiful characters to play with one another. He loves them and doesn’t care if the viewer doesn’t.

Batman Returns is a singular motion picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Daniel Waters, based on a story by Waters and Sam Hamm and characters created by Bob Kane; director of photography, Stefan Czapsky; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Bo Welch; produced by Burton and Denise Di Novi; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Michael Keaton (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Danny DeVito (Penguin / Oswald Cobblepot), Michelle Pfeiffer (Catwoman / Selina Kyle), Christopher Walken (Max Shreck), Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth), Pat Hingle (Commissioner James Gordon), Michael Murphy (The Mayor), Vincent Schiavelli (Organ Grinder), Andrew Bryniarski (Chip Shreck) and Cristi Conaway (Ice Princess).


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Dolores Claiborne (1995, Taylor Hackford)

Dolores Claiborne isn’t just a mother and daughter picture… it’s not just a mother and daughter picture made by a bunch of men (directed by a man, produced by men, screenplay by a man based on a novel by a man), it’s Panavision visual experience mother and daughter picture. Director Hackford–ably assisted by Gabriel Beristain’s photography–creates a vivid, lush visual experience. It’s stunning; every time Hackford intensifies the color scheme, it heightens the film’s impact. He does a fantastic job.

Watching Claiborne–for the first time since I was a teenager, probably–I noticed how Kathy Bates’s titular protagonist has, through a trauma, become unstuck in time. It all makes sense, by the end of the film, as a traditional narrative arc for the character, but Hackford’s then got to account for the Technicolor flashbacks (versus the drab modern day). And he does.

Hackford includes a Vonnegut reference, a very quiet one, and it’s hard not to see it as intentional, given those time slips. Hackford’s whole composition scheme is based on those slips and how they jar both the viewer and the character.

There shouldn’t be enough story for a film here, certainly not one running over two hours. With Hackford, Tony Gilroy’s script and Bates’s spellbinding (not one of my regular adjectives) performance, there’s more than enough. Actually, it ends too soon.

Outstanding supporting performances from Jennifer Jason Leigh, Christopher Plummer, David Strathairn and Judy Parfitt further deepen the film.

Excellent Danny Elfman score.

Claiborne‘s superb.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Taylor Hackford; screenplay by Tony Gilroy, based on the novel by Stephen King; director of photography, Gabriel Beristain; edited by Mark Warner; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Bruno Rubeo; produced by Hackford and Charles Mulvehill; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Kathy Bates (Dolores Claiborne), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Selena St. George), Judy Parfitt (Vera Donovan), Christopher Plummer (Det. John Mackey), David Strathairn (Joe St. George), Eric Bogosian (Peter), John C. Reilly (Const. Frank Stamshaw), Ellen Muth (Young Selena), Bob Gunton (Mr. Pease) and Roy Cooper (Magistrate).

Dark Shadows (2012, Tim Burton)

With Dark Shadows, director Burton and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith find a great formula for humor in the film, which has a lot of inherent humor in just taking place in 1972 and having vampire running around.

While it’s very much comedic, Burton infuses it with a surprisingly dark element. But Johnny Depp’s lead isn’t the evil, of course; instead, it’s Eva Green’s witch.

There’s a lot of good acting in Shadows, but Green’s the most impressive. She delights in the character’s evil, but never makes her unenjoyable to watch.

Depp gives a strong performance, making his vampire both tragic and comedic. He makes the character cute, even when he’s doing bad things. Jackie Earle Haley’s part is too small, but he’s very funny as Depp’s drunken sidekick. Bella Heathcote–who gets lost a little in the script (Shadows could go on quite a bit longer)–is good, as is Gulliver McGrath as her charge.

Both Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter are excellent, playing to the humor in the film in different ways. They have a fantastic scene together. It’s short, but simply fantastic.

The only unimpressive performance is Chloë Grace Moretz. She’s adequate, but lackluster compared to her costars.

The Bruno Delbonnel photography is excellent; Burton’s got a great look for the film, though the CG is a tad shiny.

Oddly, Danny Elfman’s score is nowhere near as compelling as the seventies rock soundtrack.

Despite a couple third act missteps, Shadows is a very pleasant, extremely likable surprise.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith, based on a story by John August and Grahame-Smith and the television series created by Dan Curtis; director of photography, Bruno Delbonnel; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Graham King, Johnny Depp, Christi Dembrowski, David Kennedy and Richard D. Zanuck; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Johnny Depp (Barnabas Collins), Michelle Pfeiffer (Elizabeth Collins Stoddard), Helena Bonham Carter (Dr. Julia Hoffman), Eva Green (Angelique Bouchard), Jackie Earle Haley (Willie Loomis), Jonny Lee Miller (Roger Collins), Bella Heathcote (Victoria Winters / Josette DuPres), Chloë Grace Moretz (Carolyn Stoddard), Gulliver McGrath (David Collins), Ray Shirley (Mrs. Johnson), Christopher Lee (Clarney), William Hope (Sheriff) and Alice Cooper (Alice Cooper).