Tag Archives: David Newman

Sheena (1984, John Guillermin)

Deconstructing Sheena could probably be its own intellectual pursuit. The film’s so many terrible perfect things in one. It’s inverted misogyny, it’s colonial racism, it’s misapplied camp. It’s bad acting from actors with no business in film so it’s this example of bad Hollywood trends. It’s also a notorious box office bomb, so there’s taking its rejection into account. Especially with acknowledgment of the era, politically and culturally. But it’s probably not worthwhile to fully deconstruct Sheena. After all, you leave the film on a positive note.

It didn’t go on one more minute. It stopped when it did. Its fourth or fifth ending, each more insulting–both morally and narratively–than the last, eventually ended and it stopped. Ted Wass stopped being onscreen and Tanya Roberts stopped talking. Because Sheena isn’t just a terrible movie with extremely bad acting and writing, it’s also exhausting. Sheena knows it’s too late. It knows it’s a bad idea. Yet it keeps going, because apparently someone thought pacing out Roberts’s topless scenes for maximum effect was a good idea in a PG-rated action movie ostensibly for a female audience. I mean, Roberts is the lead, right? She gets to be the white savior.

Oh, right. No. She doesn’t. Because Wass, who’s a sports reporter in search of his breakthrough to Dan Rather, doesn’t just save the day, he saves the world. The movie opens with Sheena as a child–a prologue running roughly twenty minutes of just awkward badness in 1984, and some lousy photography from Pasqualino De Santis (which is surprising as the crew is otherwise excellent)–and it’s about her dad saving the world. Except it’s going to be Ted Wass, who actually gives worse of a performance than Roberts. Wass doesn’t try. He just acts badly. The script is bad, his character is bad, his sidekick–Donovan Scott–is even worse in every way, but Wass also is completely inept. He can’t even sell not being able to light a Zippo.

And Roberts is running around almost naked, frequently doused in sweat, made to be docile to Wass even though she’s been Queen of the Jungle–meaning she has to run behind him–riding a zebra or an elephant, doing bit work with chimps, standing in front of an African village and pretending to be their spiritual leader? Roberts is not good. She’s not good once. She does try sometimes. But this movie puts her through awful plot developments.

Then there’s the political intrigue, involving pro football player and African prince (Trevor Thomas) plotting to assassinate his brother, the king. France Zobda plays the woman they both want. It ties into Wass curing cancer.

Thomas even has a Great White Hunter for a mercenary, played by John Forgeham, who’d have the movie’s one good line delivery but director Guillermin wasn’t paying attention. Because director Guillermin really isn’t paying attention to much in Sheena. There’s some decent direction, but none of the action works. Ray Lovejoy’s editing is fantastic in everything except the action scenes. Guillermin gets more than enough footage everywhere else, but the action’s rushed and weak.

Maybe because Sheena’s supposed to have this army of awesome animal sidekicks helping out but they get no personality. They occasionally have a moment, but it’s like no one wanted to shoot any scenes with the animals. Sheena’s not for kids, after all, it’s for twelve year-old boys who want to see Roberts’s multiple bathing scenes. But Guillermin isn’t enthusiastic about it. De Santis is, however.

Guillermin’s enthusiastic about the Kenyan location shooting and he’s sort of enthusiastic about Elizabeth of Toro as Roberts’s adoptive mother and mentor. It’d be nice if he’d been enthusiastic enough to get her a name better than just “Shaman.” Sheena is written campy, acted badly, directed for location, and produced for gaze. It’s a mess and it’s awful.

Okay music from Richard Hartley–which almost gives Guillermin the one great action sequence of the film, before he chokes on it–excellent editing from Lovejoy, fine production design from Peter Murton.

But Sheena’s a crappy movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Guillermin; screenplay by David Newman and Lorenzo Semple Jr., based on a story by Newman and Leslie Stevens and on a comic book created by Jerry Iger; director of photography, Pasqualino De Santis; edited by Ray Lovejoy; music by Richard Hartley; production designer, Peter Murton; produced by Paul Aratow; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tanya Roberts (Sheena), Ted Wass (Vic Casey), Donovan Scott (Fletcher), Elizabeth of Toro (Shaman), France Zobda (Countess Zanda), Trevor Thomas (Prince Otwani), Clifton Jones (King Jabalani), and John Forgeham (Jorgensen).


RELATED

Advertisements

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989, Stephen Herek)

About halfway through Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the film becomes truly excellent. Dimwitted metal heads Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves have successfully brought historical figures to the present and loosed them on the modern world–the mall. That sequence of the film, along with Terry Camilleri’s Napoleon at a water park, is when the film fully delivers on its titular promise.

Until that point, it gets by on some amusing dialogue, George Carlin’s glorified cameo and Reeves’s performance. He brings a warmness and likability to his stupidity; in contrast, Winter is almost standoffish in his own performance. He seems to take it very seriously, whereas no one else working on the film takes anything seriously. It would probably hurt if it weren’t for that witty script and Reeves being around to save scenes.

The first half of the film, with the time travel setup and Reeves and Winter capturing the historical figures, is okay but buffoonish. It’s not until the modern day–with its absurd handling of time travel logic–where the film’s a consistent success. It would help if Hal Landon Jr. and Bernie Casey were a little better too; Casey seems disinterested in his role, while Landon’s just bad as Reeves’s jerk dad.

As for the supporting cast–Camilleri is the standout. He’s phenomenal. Robert V. Barron does well as Abraham Lincoln, as does Jane Wiedlin as Joan of Arc. Dan Shor gets lots of screen time, but almost nothing to do.

It takes a while, but Adventure definitely works out.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Herek; written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Larry Bock and Patrick Rand; music by David Newman; production designer, Roy Forge Smith; produced by Scott Kroopf, Michael S. Murphey and Joel Soisson; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Keanu Reeves (Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan), Alex Winter (Bill S. Preston), Robert V. Barron (Abraham Lincoln), Terry Camilleri (Napoleon), Clifford David (Beethoven), Al Leong (Genghis Khan), Rod Loomis (Freud), Dan Shor (Billy the Kid), Tony Steedman (Socrates), Jane Wiedlin (Joan of Arc), Bernie Casey (Mr. Ryan), Hal Landon Jr. (Captain Logan), Amy Stock-Poynton (Missy) and George Carlin (Rufus).


RELATED

Other People’s Money (1991, Norman Jewison)

Despite all Danny DeVito’s vulgar innuendos–though there are a couple missed opportunities–Other People’s Money is a rather chaste film. Director Jewison’s model for it is a Hollywood classic, with exquisite gowns for DeVito’s love interest slash rival, Penelope Ann Miller, and hats for the men.

With photography from Haskell Wexler and Alvin Sargent’s thoughtful, deliberate screenplay (though that thoughtfulness might be from Jerry Sterner’s source play), Money is extremely elegant. DeVito playing a variation on his bombastic, obnoxious persona for the first thirty minutes only makes the elegance more striking.

The film opens with DeVito positioned against not Miller, but Gregory Peck, Piper Laurie and Dean Jones (Jones is fantastic in the film). He’s an amusing villain… nothing more. Then Miller enters and Money changes. Jewison has the problem of making a romance believable between the refined Miller and the trollish DeVito. And he solves it. The very slow humanizing of DeVito is one of Money‘s best elements, as DeVito, Jewison and Sargent have structured the character so it’s not a development, just a delayed revelation.

While DeVito’s excellent, Miller’s more impressive because she has to contend with him. Jewison’s composition puts a lot of importance on sight line and Miller sells every scene. It helps Miller’s character has a layered personality too.

R.D. Call and Mo Gaffney are good in smaller roles.

The film’s third act, unfortunately, wobbles quite a bit. Luckily, DeVito, Miller and Jewison’s previous successes are able to override it.

Money‘s an excellent picture.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Norman Jewison; screenplay by Alvin Sargent, based on the play by Jerry Sterner; director of photography, Haskell Wexler; edited by Hubert C. de la Bouillerie, Lou Lombardo and Michael Pacek; music by David Newman; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Jewison and Ric Kidney; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Danny DeVito (Lawrence Garfield), Penelope Ann Miller (Kate Sullivan), Piper Laurie (Bea Sullivan), Dean Jones (Bill Coles), R.D. Call (Arthur), Mo Gaffney (Harriet), Bette Henritze (Emma), Tom Aldredge (Ozzie), Leila Kenzle (Marcia) and Gregory Peck (Andrew Jorgenson).


RELATED

Gross Anatomy (1989, Thom E. Eberhardt)

Gross Anatomy is harmless and diverting. It’s got some good performances–Christine Lahti is fantastic, Matthew Modine barely does any work and is solid as the lead. The supporting cast has some bright points (Alice Carter and John Scott Clough), but it’s also got Daphne Zuniga.

Now, Anatomy is a big bright Touchstone movie. It’s less realistic than a Disney cartoon in terms of characterizations and so on. But at least everyone is being earnest–even Todd Field, who gets the short end of the script–but Zuniga is just atrocious. She’s not believable for one second, which isn’t a damning feature of the film… until the last scene, when she gets the final moment. That abject misfire is why I’m hostile towards the film. It’s such a terrible moment, it undoes whatever competence came before.

Speaking of competence, director Eberhardt, who initially seemed like he wasn’t bringing anything particular to the film, impressed me once I noticed he has a way of holding the shot. He gives the actors time to do something. Modine’s playing this intentionally bland character, but Eberhardt’s direction gives him time to think. Even though the script’s contrived, Modine is a good enough actor, he’s able to use that extra camera time to make an honest moment.

Lisa Zane shows up briefly at one point as a diversion for Modine (from Zuniga). Maybe without Zane’s clearly excellent acting ability, Zuniga wouldn’t seem so bad.

Gross Anatomy probably plays a lot better on TV.

Good score from David Newman.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Thom E. Eberhardt; screenplay by Ron Nyswaner and Mark Spragg, based on a story by Spragg, Howard Rosenman, Alan Jay Glueckman and Stanley Isaacs; director of photography, Steve Yaconelli; edited by Bud S. Smith and M. Scott Smith; music by David Newman; production designer, William F. Matthews; produced by Debra Hill and Howard Rosenman; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Matthew Modine (Joe Slovak), Daphne Zuniga (Laurie Rorbach), Christine Lahti (Dr. Rachel Woodruff), Todd Field (David Schreiner), John Scott Clough (Miles Reed), Alice Carter (Kim McCauley), Robert Desiderio (Dr. Banks) and Zakes Mokae (Dr. Banumbra).


RELATED