Tag Archives: DreamWorks Pictures

Dear Diary (1996, David Frankel)

Dear Diary was originally a TV pilot, which didn’t get picked up, then got (slightly) re-edited into a short. It’s impossible to imagine it as a weekly show, just because Diary does so little to establish what would be its regular cast.

It opens with star Bebe Neuwirth writing about her day in her diary. She narrates the whole film, with her musings about what she encounters–usually about people she meets, sometimes about herself, sometimes memories, or a lot of concepts (golf, photography)–visualized. If it’s people in the cast, they’re in the musings. If it’s an idea or a memory, it’s stock footage. On video. But Diary is shot on film. So it’s constantly visually jarring. Director Frankel is constantly moving the camera after cuts. It’ll tilt to focus on the actor, it’ll tilt away. It’s not effective. And it’s a problem for the first act.

The first act introduces Neuwirth and her family. They’re New York yuppies. She’s a magazine editor, husband Brian Kerwin is an attorney, they’ve got a couple kids who don’t matter except to remind Neuwirth she’s forty. Kerwin doesn’t figure into the plot at all. He’s an accessory, albeit one with more going on than the kids.

Neuwirth goes to work, where she ends up quitting almost immediately after her boss, Bruce Altman, gets introduced. Then she’s just got a free day; that free day is where Diary starts getting a lot better. She goes lunch golfing, where she meets avid golfer and department store security guard Mike Starr. They hang out for long enough to see her old college friend, Haviland Morris, rip off a dress. So Neuwirth tracks down Morris, meeting her husband (Ronald Guttman) eventually, and he knows Altman, which ties it all together with Neuwirth losing her job. Or quitting. That opening scene didn’t play well because Frankel’s not good at directing dramatic or expository scenes.

So Neuwirth’s narration is all-important. And it’s great. And her performance, even as problematic as the first act gets–there are hiccups in the Morris section too–but her performance is always fantastic. You just have to pretend there’s enough character. The diary entry she’s writing aloud is nowhere near as effective as the film postulates.

The third act ties it all together, not just Neuwirth’s days’ events, but also the film in general. It works because its well-acted. It works because of Neuwirth.

Though it’s Starr who saves the thing when it’s still getting through the rockier stuff. Altman’s good, Guttman’s funny (it’s a very small part), Kerwin seems fine. Morris is way too affected, but Dear Diary is way too affected so it fits. Enough.

Given Frankel’s direction and the general production concepts–the stock video footage is a disaster (why not just shoot the whole thing on video)–Dear Diary should be a lot less successful. As for the writing (by Frankel)… it’s fine. But it’s a sitcom. An okay sitcom. So you’ve got an okay sitcom script directed goofy (or worse) and a great lead performance.

Neuwirth makes Diary happen. However, last thing, the diary she’s writing seems to be very thin. Is it a new diary? Doesn’t matter. I guess.

But it does matter. Frankel’s way too loose on detail.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by David Frankel; director of photography, Maryse Alberti; edited by Michael Berenbaum; music by Wendy Blackstone; production designer, Ginger Tougas; produced by Barry Jossen; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Bebe Neuwirth (Annie), Brian Kerwin (Tom), Bruce Altman (Griffin), Mike Starr (Fritz), Haviland Morris (Christie), and Ronald Guttman (Erik).


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Small Soldiers (1998, Joe Dante)

I remember liking Small Soldiers the first time I saw it. I was wrong.

This time watching it, all I could think about was how Dante and DreamWorks studio chief Steven Spielberg ignored they had a terrible script.

Of course, Dante still does a good job. He has a fantastic Bride of Frankenstein homage, which brings up the target audience–along with the action figures being effectively voiced by the Spinal Tap and Dirty Dozen casts.

The casting has some problems. Kevin Dunn plays Gregory Smith’s father (prepping for Transformers in the distant future no doubt) and he’s really bad. Dunn’s usually good, but his character is just too terribly written for him to work with it. All of the characters are terribly written–except maybe David Cross and Jay Mohr’s characters, who are disposable and funny.

Smith is supposed to be playing a problem teenager–it’s never explained why, but presumably has something to with Dunn’s bad parenting. Smith and Kirsten Dunst are supposed to be fifteen–too young to drive–and they show the real problem. Small Soldiers is a kid’s movie made by people who don’t know how to dumb it down enough.

Dunst’s actually okay. Denis Leary does his schtick. Phil Hartmann’s great. Wendy Schaal is wasted. Dick Miller’s got a good part. Ann Magnuson has some excellent scenes.

It works best as a showcase for outstanding practical and CG effects. Thinking about the movie just hurts one’s head, especially when they get into the science.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; written by Gavin Scott, Adam Rifkin, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio; director of photography, Jamie Anderson; edited by Marshall Harvey and Michael Thau; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, William Sandell; produced by Michael Finnell and Colin Wilson; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Gregory Smith (Alan Abernathy), Kirsten Dunst (Christy Fimple), Phil Hartman (Phil Fimple), Kevin Dunn (Stuart Abernathy), Ann Magnuson (Irene Abernathy), Wendy Schaal (Marion Fimple), David Cross (Irwin Wayfair), Jay Mohr (Larry Benson), Dick Miller (Joe) and Denis Leary (Gil Mars).

Starring Frank Langella (Archer), Tommy Lee Jones (Chip Hazard), Ernest Borgnine (Kip Killagin), Jim Brown (Butch Meathook), Bruce Dern (Link Static), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Gwendy Doll), Christopher Guest (Slamfist / Scratch-It), George Kennedy (Brick Bazooka), Michael McKean (Insaniac / Freakenstein), Christina Ricci (Gwendy Doll), Harry Shearer (Punch-It) and Clint Walker (Nick Nitro).


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I Love You, Man (2009, John Hamburg)

Could Paul Rudd make less of an impression in I Love You, Man? Even before Jason Segel shows up, Rudd is completely ineffectual. He’s supposed to be ineffectual, of course, but he’s also the protagonist of the movie. He doesn’t garner sympathy, he garners pity.

But Hamburg’s whole approach is peculiar. He opens the movie with Rudd proposing to Rashida Jones. It kicks off the plot–Rudd’s search for a best man. The structure is awkward. Hamburg seems to acknowledge people will mostly be watching Man on home video and so he doesn’t need to make the opening at all cinematic. It’s defeat from the opening Los Angeles montage.

Hamburg does have some secret weapons. First is Segel, who’s hilarious as the sort of bumbling, sort of charming potential best who throws Rudd’s boring life for a spin. A measured spin (Man‘s rather boring overall). Second is Jon Favreau, who has a small role as Jaime Pressly’s husband. He’s astoundingly great. Pressly (one of Jones’s friends) is surprisingly good too. Hamburg gets these excellent supporting performances, but not one out of Rudd. It hurts the movie.

There’s also Jones. She’s quite good, but her character has absolutely no backstory. It’s like Hamburg didn’t want to give her white parents, but wasn’t willing to confirm she’s biracial. It screams cop out.

Other good supporting turns from Jane Curtin, J.K. Simmons and Andy Samberg as Rudd’s family.

I Love You, Man‘s only really funny twice. But it’s genial, if uninventive, throughout.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John Hamburg; screenplay by Hamburg and Larry Levin, based on a story by Levin; director of photography, Lawrence Sher; edited by William Kerr; music by Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Andrew Laws; produced by Hamburg and Donald De Line; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Paul Rudd (Peter Klaven), Jason Segel (Sydney Fife), Rashida Jones (Zooey Rice), Jaime Pressly (Denise McLean), Sarah Burns (Hailey), Andy Samberg (Robbie Klaven), J.K. Simmons (Oswald Klaven), Jane Curtin (Joyce Klaven), Jon Favreau (Barry McLean), Lou Ferrigno (Himself), Rob Huebel (Tevin Downey), Joe Lo Truglio (Lonnie) and Thomas Lennon (Doug Evans).


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Galaxy Quest (1999, Dean Parisot)

I can’t imagine not liking Galaxy Quest, but I suppose appreciating it does require on a certain level of previous knowledge. I can’t imagine how it plays to people who aren’t familiar with “Star Trek,” not to mention knowing William Shatner’s an egomaniac and “Trek” fans have big, weird conventions. Having some passing knowledge of cheesy late seventies science fiction shows wouldn’t hurt either (Sigourney Weaver’s character doesn’t have a “Star Trek” analog).

By creating the animosity between Tim Allen (as the Shatner analog) and the rest of the cast, the film sets up a really simple proposition—there’s no deep redemption here, he just has to stop being such a dip. And whisking them off to space to fight an intergalactic despot, it seems like a non-dip move.

Galaxy Quest is very assured. The details are important, not the characters. They’re funnier as caricatures and some deep human reality doesn’t have a place. By casting Allen opposite Weaver and Alan Rickman, the filmmakers create a wonderfully playful disconnect. It’s absurd and creates a great atmosphere.

All of the acting is excellent—Sam Rockwell and Tony Shalhoub are phenomenal. Both are perfectly casted for the roles—the writing is strongest at creating these funny people to watch. Only Daryl Mitchell “suffers,” but not really. He just doesn’t have enough to do.

Parisot does a good job. It’s all very professional, never letting himself get in the way of the actors.

The special effects are excellent.

It’s a great time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Dean Parisot; screenplay by David Howard and Robert Gordon, based on a story by Howard; director of photography, Jerzy Zielinski; edited by Don Zimmerman; music by David Newman; production designer, Linda DeScenna; produced by Mark Johnson and Charles Newirth; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Tim Allen (Jason Nesmith), Sigourney Weaver (Gwen DeMarco), Alan Rickman (Alexander Dane), Tony Shalhoub (Fred Kwan), Sam Rockwell (Guy Fleegman), Daryl Mitchell (Tommy Webber), Enrico Colantoni (Mathesar), Robin Sachs (Sarris), Patrick Breen (Quellek), Missi Pyle (Laliari), Jed Rees (Teb) and Justin Long (Brandon).


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