Tag Archives: Diane Ladd

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983, Jack Clayton)

Nothing connects with Something Wicked This Way Comes, though Jonathan Pryce’s performance is probably the closest thing to a complete success. Jason Robards is often quite good, but he’s both protagonist and subject of the film, which neither director Clayton nor writer Ray Bradbury (adapting his own novel) really seem to know how to transition between. Ostensibly, the leads of the film are young teens Vidal Peterson and Shawn Carson, who find their small town threatened by Pryce’s demonic carnival owner. But they’re just in distress; it’s up to Robards to save them.

Along the way–Something Wicked runs a long ninety-some minutes–strange things happen to the other townsfolk, at least the ones the film has time to introduce in the talky first act. Clayton’s direction is never scary enough, Stephen H. Burum’s photography is never atmospheric enough, and Argyle Nelson Jr. and Barry Mark Gordon’s editing is always problematic. Something Wicked’s target audience is teen boys but the script is about a fifty-something man coming to terms with waiting too long to have a child. If Clayton just went for creepy, it might have all worked out better.

Especially considering all the special effects until the finale are weak. The finale’s special effects are fantastic. They’re not on screen long enough–that editing is always problematic, like I said–but they’re fantastic.

Also unimpressive is James Horner’s score, which occasionally makes the film seem longer, even though it’s not bad. It just doesn’t work. Nothing in Something Wicked works. Except the aforementioned Jonathan Pryce.

The main supporting cast–Mary Grace Canfield, Richard Davalos, Jake Dengel, James Stacy–don’t help things. They’re too obviously contrived, too obviously pragmatic (except Canfield, all of them have shops in a row so it’s easy to introduce them all to both Peterson and Robards). Bradbury’s script treats everyone as a caricature, except maybe Peterson and Robards. Peterson’s performance isn’t good enough–he’s annoying–and Robards gets some lame material. Poor Diane Ladd has nothing to do, except go from being a tragic abandoned wife to a succubus, entertaining men while son Carson sleeps unawares upstairs.

Pam Grier shows up as one of Pryce’s minions and makes an impression thanks to some solid costumes and terrible special effects, but her few lines aren’t memorable. Same goes for Ellen Geer’s character, mother to Peterson, wife to Robards. Something Wicked’s characters ought to have some interesting backstory, but they just don’t. It doesn’t help whenever Bradbury tries to bring it up, he just goes with blocks of expository dialogue.

The film suffered studio tinkering, but it’s hard to imagine they broke things too much. Something Wicked’s pieces simply don’t add up to anything. It’s a shame, because the production values are great and there’s excellent potential for Robards’s performance. And Pryce’s good, regardless.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Clayton; screenplay by Ray Bradbury, based on his novel; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Argyle Nelson Jr. and Barry Mark Gordon; music by James Horner; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Peter Douglas; released by Buena Vista Distribution Company.

Starring Vidal Peterson (Will Halloway), Shawn Carson (Jim Nightshade), Jason Robards (Charles Halloway), Jonathan Pryce (Mr. Dark), Ellen Geer (Mrs. Halloway), Diane Ladd (Mrs. Nightshade), Royal Dano (Tom Fury), Mary Grace Canfield (Miss Foley), Richard Davalos (Mr. Crosetti), Jake Dengel (Mr. Tetley), James Stacy (Ed) and Pam Grier (The Dust Witch).


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The Westing Game (1997, Terence H. Winkless)

The Westing Game might be the perfect example of why a novel should never be turned into a movie. There are a lot of examples of the inverse, but watching Westing Game… it’s hard to imagine ever wanting to see a book adapted into a film again.

There are no redeeming qualities to the film, unless one wants to count Lewis Arquette not being atrocious like everyone else. Dylan Kelsey Hadley’s script is so bad, not even Ray Walston can deliver his lines well. Watching the movie, there’s not much to do besides pick out the worst performances.

What’s extraordinary about the film is how often director Winkless invites the viewer to laugh at the characters. Jim Lau’s Chinese restauranteur is a stereotype from the forties, Sally Kirkland’s neurotic, spinster secretary plays like… wait, I figured it out. Winkless and Hadley aren’t so much interested in adapting a novel as they are turning an episode of “Scooby Doo” into a movie.

A really bad episode of “Scooby Doo.”

The source novel is technically a kids’ book–it won the Newbery Medal, which is for juvenile fiction–so I assume the adaptation’s target audience is kids. Really dumb kids. The movie follows around Ashley Peldon, who’s tragically precocious and wise beyond her years.

It’s a big mistake, as Peldon’s awful. Though she’s not as bad as June Christopher, Diane Nadeau or Sandy Faison. The less said about Shane West–who plays a surprisingly fit disabled kid–the better.

Westing is atrocious.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Terence H. Winkless; screenplay by Dylan Kelsey Hadley, based on the novel by Ellen Raskin; director of photography, Kurt Brabbee; edited by Jim Makiej; music by Pamela Fuller; production designer, Stuart Blatt; produced by Julie Corman; released by Showtime.

Starring Ashley Peldon (Turtle Wexler), Diane Ladd (Berthe Erica Crow), Sally Kirkland (Sydelle Pulaski), Cliff De Young (Jake Wexler), Sandy Faison (Grace Wexler), June Christopher (Judge J.J. Ford), Lewis Arquette (Otis Amber), Diane Nadeau (Angela Wexler), Billy Morrissette (Edgar Plum), Jim Lau (James Shin Hoo), Shane West (Chris Theodorakis), Ernest Liu (Doug Hoo) and Ray Walston (Sandy McSouthers).


Black Widow (1987, Bob Rafelson)

Black Widow is an odd film. Ronald Bass’s script starts being about Debra Winger as a Justice Department analyst who can’t get her male colleagues to take her seriously when she discovers a woman (Theresa Russell) killing her rich husbands. The film never discusses Russell’s motive, though one can assume they’re awful guys since every guy in Black Widow is a sexist jerk. Even the nicer guys are still sexist jerks. Or at least mild perverts.

Rafelson and Bass juxtapose all Winger’s opposition with Russell seducing a new husband–Nicol Williamson. Williamson’s fantastic, by the way; easily the best performance in the film.

But then once Russell discovers Winger is after her, the movie moves to Hawaii where the two women have a bonding movie together. They see the sights, have some vaguely homoerotic scenes together. The trip to Hawaii doesn’t serve the film at all, just the cast and crew who got a paid vacation.

And in Hawaii, Winger falls for this perfect Indochinese millionaire, played by Sami Frey (who looks way too young to be the older gentleman he’s portraying). He’s a great guy though, nothing like the pigs she encountered earlier. Must be the accent.

Rafelson’s direction is acceptable. Good photography from Conrad L. Hall, truly great editing from John Bloom.

Both Russell and Winger give fine technical performances, but they can’t overcome the script. Terry O’Quinn, D.W. Moffett and Diane Ladd excel in small parts.

Black Widow‘s tedious and shockingly predictable. It’s downhill from the start.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Rafelson; written by Ronald Bass; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by John Bloom; music by Michael Small; production designer, Gene Callahan; produced by Harold Schneider; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Debra Winger (Alexandra), Theresa Russell (Catharine), Sami Frey (Paul), Dennis Hopper (Ben), Nicol Williamson (William), Terry O’Quinn (Bruce), Lois Smith (Sara), D.W. Moffett (Michael), Leo Rossi (Detective Ricci), Mary Woronov (Shelley), Rutanya Alda (Irene), James Hong (Shin) and Diane Ladd (Etta).


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All Night Long (1981, Jean-Claude Tramont)

There’s a certain tragedy about All Night Long. Not the film’s story or anything, but the film itself. It’s a debacle–Barbara Streisand is unbelievably terrible and the cuts made to the film (twenty minutes) significantly damage it–a painful to watch debacle. It’s such a chore to get through, I can’t imagine trying to watch it in the theater. IMDb’s trivia section is no help–Lisa Eichhorn, who’s excellent, was originally in Streisand’s role.

The tragedy aspect is Gene Hackman. It’s an amazing performance. Hackman’s performance is so good, it conquers the bad plotting, uninspired direction and annoying score. It just can’t beat Streisand. The funniest scenes–unintentionally–are the ones with Hackman acting well and Streisand acting horribly. One half of the screen is a good movie, the other half is All Night Long.

Further problems stem from the screenplay’s lack of emphasis on Hackman’s relationship with son Dennis Quaid. The two are fantastic together, something apparently the director didn’t realize when shooting the film. Diane Ladd’s also good (as the wife Hackman leaves for Streisand), but Kevin Dobson (as Streisand’s husband) leaves a lot to be desired once the plot requires anything from him.

Richter sets the film up as a comedy–it’s a real precursor to American Beauty–with Hackman managing an all-night pharmacy after losing his office job. Way too little time is spent in the pharmacy though, even though the film populates with odd-ball characters and appealing ones too. Once Hackman leaves, around halfway through, the rest of the film becomes the back and forth of pursuing Streisand.

Something about the script suggests a real lack of maturity (though Richter was thirty-six), particularly in the way all the good guys get a happy ending. The real problems the characters experience are never addressed. Hackman walks out on his wife of seventeen years immediately, though the film never shows any particular problems with their marriage, except her wanting him to apologize to his old boss and he doesn’t want to do it. It’s sloppy writing, sloppy editing and so forth. Director Tramont did very little else–maybe theatrical audiences couldn’t sit through it, no shock–and, as the film ended, I thought about who would have done a better job of directing it. Practically anyone is the obvious and glib answer… but also maybe the right one. Still, it sounds like (from the IMDb trivia page) the producers really wanted Streisand and she’s the overriding problem with the film.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jean-Claude Tramont; written by W.D. Richter; director of photography, Philip H. Lathrop; edited by Rachel Igel and Marion Rothman; music by Richard Hazard, Ira Newborn and José Padilla; production designer, Peter Jamison; produced by Leonard Goldberg and Jerry Weintraub; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Gene Hackman (George Dupler), Barbra Streisand (Cheryl Gibbons), Diane Ladd (Helen Dupler), Dennis Quaid (Freddie Dupler), Kevin Dobson (Bobby Gibbons) and William Daniels (Richard H. Copleston).


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