Tag Archives: Ed Harris

Absolute Power (1997, Clint Eastwood)

Absolute Power has a number of narrative issues. Well, less narrative issues and more narrative slights. As the film enters the third act, director Eastwood and screenwriter William Goldman decide the audience has gotten enough out of the movie and it’s time to wrap things up. It’s a shame because the film goes into the third act at its high point.

The first thirty minutes of the movie have Eastwood playing an old man cat burglar who sees something he shouldn’t. There’s a little character establishment montage during the opening credits for Eastwood–he likes to sketch, he doesn’t know how to work a VCR, he’s solitary but still takes care of himself–then it’s into the break-in sequence, which leads to a really tough murder sequence. It goes on and on, getting worse and worse.

Then there’s a cover-up sequence, where Eastwood really shows off all cinematographer Jack N. Green is going to do with Absolute Power. Even with its issues, the film’s beautifully made, beautifully acted. Green’s photography, with its occasional soft focus, is stunning. Absolute Power’s entertaining because of the actors, but Green helps out a lot with presenting their performances. Because eventually everyone’s fighting for time.

You know, a better defined present action and subplots probably would’ve helped. Because everyone’s just present. Eastwood and Laura Linney, as his daughter, get some hints at his weak parenting, but it’s not like Linney’s got anything to do but be around for Eastwood and his thriller storyline. Same goes for cop Ed Harris. Well, eventually he gets to flirt with Linney a little and all of a sudden, it’s like Eastwood’s goal for Absolute Power is just for everyone to enjoy themselves. There’s so much charm in the scenes between Harris and Linney–and Harris and Eastwood–narrative slights don’t really matter.

But it’s also about ability. The other half of the film has Secret Service agents scrambling to cover up a Presidential indiscretion and some of these scenes aren’t the best. Goldman’s got to do a bunch of exposition, but not too much for anyone to ask logic questions. The acting gets it through–Judy Davis, Dennis Haysbert, Scott Glenn, Gene Hackman. All of them are phenomenal, but all of them come at their parts differently. And most of their scenes are together; Haysbert just waits. And Eastwood loves showing Haysbert’s patience. He’s got fewer lines than Glenn–as another Secret Service agent–but he makes more an impression. He’s terrifying. Glenn’s good, but sympathetic. Davis and Hackman both get to go wild; no one plays menace better than Hackman and it’s almost like Davis’s playing protege. It’s very helpful having that acting depth since there’s nothing but action or actions for them in the script.

E.G. Marshall’s good in a smaller part as a wealthy mover and shaker. He gets some of the film’s worst lines but Marshall just makes them work. Even in the third act, when Absolute Power is racing downhill to get finished as soon as it can, Marshall is patient in his performance. His deliberateness makes all the difference. Or, enough difference to keep things afloat until Eastwood can get to the incredibly gentle finish.

Awesome editing from Joel Cox. The thriller sequences are phenomenally cut. And Lennie Niehaus’s score is good. It does quite a bit of work throughout the film, though it can’t hold up the third act. Nothing can. It’s just too much all at once.

Eastwood, as an actor, gets some good scenes and then some fun ones. He and Linney are fantastic together–maybe the cutest thing about the film is how similar Linney and Eastwood seem after the film spends time with them. When it comes time for ominous line deliveries, they give them in the same way. Eastwood initially gets away with it because he’s Clint Eastwood, but by the end, they get away with it because she’s his kid and he’s her dad, after all.

Harris is fun. He plays great with his partner, Penny Johnson Jerald, who isn’t in it enough. Though almost no one is in Absolute Power enough. Not Jerald, not Davis, not Hackman, not Marshall. Especially not with how much story Goldman and Eastwood are telling. Again, they manage to get away with it, but it’s a rush. Goldman’s script is too spare, especially given Eastwood’s preference in the family drama over the thrills.

Absolute Power has that adaptation curse–too much content but not enough story; still, it’s masterfully produced, with rich performances.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; screenplay by William Goldman, based on the novel by David Baldacci; director of photography, Jack N. Green; edited by Joel Cox; music by Lennie Niehaus; production designer, Henry Bumstead; produced by Eastwood and Karen S. Spiegel; released by Columbia Pictures.

Clint Eastwood (Luther Whitney), Ed Harris (Seth Frank), Laura Linney (Kate Whitney), Scott Glenn (Bill Burton), Dennis Haysbert (Tim Collin), Judy Davis (Gloria Russell), E.G. Marshall (Walter Sullivan), Melora Hardin (Christy Sullivan), Penny Johnson Jerald (Laura Simon), and Gene Hackman as the President of the United States.


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Glengarry Glen Ross (1992, James Foley)

The first half of Glengarry Glen Ross is phenomenal. David Mamet’s screenplay is lightning fast during this section, moving its characters around, pairing them off for scenes or moments–the brevity is astounding. Half the movie is over and it feels like just a few minutes. Then the second half hits and the pace is still good, but the energy is different. It meanders. Apparently the only thing keeping director Foley going was having different locations and different camera setups–many questionably framed for pan and scan; in the second half of the film, set entirely on one set, Glengarry Glen Ross starts to fizzle. The actors keep it viable for as long as they can, but then it becomes clear Foley’s just composing for one actor, one performance, not all the actors, all the performances. The film never solidifies and it’s so fast, it’s almost over before it becomes clear Foley’s not going to bring it together. He instead relies on James Newton Howard’s peppy smooth jazz score. It’s never a good idea to rely on smooth jazz, peppy or not.

Every performance in Glengarry Glen Ross is outstanding. Foley’s problem isn’t giving the actors time to act, he does fine with that aspect of his directing. Sure, even in the first half, he isn’t directing their scenes perfectly, but he’s definitely giving them room to act. Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin, Jonathan Pryce, Alec Baldwin. They’re all great. Pryce and Baldwin don’t have particularly great parts, but they’re great. Baldwin gets a big speech, which he nails. Pacino, Lemmon, Harris and Spacey get the meatier parts (Spacey the least, Harris and Pacino just through force). Lemmon’s the lead for most of the film. Only not so in the second half, which Mamet might be able to cover if Foley knew how to stage the second half. He avoids doing an adaptation of the play–Glengarry Glen Ross was a play first, also by Mamet–for the first half, only to be forced into it in the second half and have no idea how to do it. Arkin doesn’t get much meat, but he still turns in a great performance. The performances are impeccable.

And impeccable performances, along with strong dialogue, keep the film going for quite a while. There aren’t even any danger signs until Harris and Arkin’s subplot in the first half, when Howard E. Smith’s editing seems to be elongating and distracting their conversations instead of curating and appreciating them. Glengarry Glen Ross isn’t a mystery. There’s a mystery in it–sort of–and Foley stumbles when trying to integrate it. All the humanity in the film is from its actors essaying the screenplay. None of it comes from the filmmaking itself, which is a big problem.

Again, Pacino, Lemmon and Harris are all phenomenal. None of them have great characters to work with–they have some great material, but not great characters. As an example of excellent acting, Glengarry Glen Ross works. As a film? Not so much.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Foley; screenplay by David Mamet, based on his play; director of photography, Juan Ruiz Anchía; edited by Howard E. Smith; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Jane Musky; produced by Stanley R. Zupnik and Jerry Tokofsky; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Al Pacino (Ricky Roma), Jack Lemmon (Shelley Levene), Alec Baldwin (Blake), Alan Arkin (George Aaronow), Ed Harris (Dave Moss), Kevin Spacey (John Williamson) and Jonathan Pryce (James Lingk).


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Creepshow (1982, George A. Romero)

Creepshow is an homage to 1950s horror comic books. Director Romero and writer Stephen King go out of their way to make it feel like you’re reading one of those comics. It’s about the anticipation. The terror isn’t promised, it’s inevitable. So watching Creepshow is about waiting for the kicker. For the most part–and certainly from a technical standpoint–the film delivers. Romero has these hyper-realistic effects but this overly stylized photography. Red for dark rumblings, blue for immediate danger. Initially, it just seems like Michael Gornick’s photography is too crisp, but it turns out to be Romero’s enthusiasm for the project. Creepshow is good, wholesome scary fun. Just with patricide, cannibalism, monsters, bugs. Lots and lots of bugs.

There are five stories in Creepshow. The longest runs thirty-five minutes and stars Fritz Weaver, Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau. It’s also where Creepshow loses its steam so I thought I’d cover it first. Weaver and Holbrook are college professors. Barbeau’s Holbrook’s cheap and unintellectual wife. Weaver is great, Holbrook is not. Barbeau tries but it’s a crap part. The segment cuts between Holbrook’s fantasizing about killing Barbeau and Weaver trying to contend with a monster. Real quick–Creepshow deals with its horror a little differently; Romero makes a monster movie. It’s very stylized, but it’s a monster movie. The scares have to do with the monsters themselves, not their actions. The monster design, from Tom Savini, and the monster actions, also Savini, are both great. Back to the segment. It’s great when it’s Weaver and janitor Don Keefer trying to figure out what’s in a crate. Once they find out, the problems start. It’s the least “comic book” of the segments and the one where Romero has the most trouble. It feels like a riff on a fifties sci-fi movie more than anything else. Holbrook doesn’t help things, of course.

Otherwise, the segments are pretty strong. Even the one where writer Stephen King plays a New England redneck is fine. Not because of King’s performance–he’s terrible–but because of Savini’s effects and Romero’s direction. Great editing on the segment from Pasquale Buba too.

The best segment is probably the one with Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen and Gaylen Ross. It’s the third one in the film, after Romero, King and Gornick have established the film’s style and its devices. It’s the most comfortable mix of horror film and horror comic book. Danson’s sleeping with Ross, who’s Nielsen’s wife. Nielsen decides to torture Danson. Complications and some extravagant effects work ensue. Romero’s clearly enthusiastic about the effects work in Creepshow. He wants to showcase it and to present it properly, which requires a lot of technical ingenuity. There’s some excellent filmmaking in Creepshow.

The first segment in the film, with Ed Harris, Carrie Nye, Viveca Lindfors, Warner Shook and Elizabeth Regan, has a lot of excellent filmmaking too. Romero mixes a lot of horror standards–particularly the old dark house–to create a really effective opener to the film. Now, the film already has had a prologue with Tom Atkins as a crappy dad throwing up his kid’s Creepshow comic, so the first actual story segment just goes to establish Romero and King know what they’re doing.

Heck, they can even get past King’s acting in the second segment.

The last segment has E.G. Marshall as a recluse, germ-phobe capitalist fighting a cockroach infestation. Marshall is great, the cockroaches are gross and effective, but it lacks the energy to jumpstart Creepshow after the Weaver segment.

There’s a lot of good acting. Weaver, Nielsen, Nye, Viveca Lindfors, Danson, Keefer (whose mild doofus suggests just how good the one with King acting could have been with a better actor).

Solid music from John Harrison. It gets a little much at times, but it’s solid.

Creepshow is a lot of fun. Except when Romero and King forget they’re supposed to be having fun and subject the film to way too much whiney Hal Holbrook and harpy Adrienne Barbeau.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by George A. Romero; written by Stephen King; director of photography, Michael Gornick; edited by Michael Spolan, Romero, Pasquale Buba and Paul Hirsch; music by John Harrison; production designer, Cletus Anderson; produced by Richard P. Rubinstein; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Carrie Nye (Sylvia Grantham), Jon Lormer (Nathan Grantham), Ed Harris (Hank Blaine), Elizabeth Regan (Cass Blaine), Viveca Lindfors (Aunt Bedelia), Warner Shook (Richard Grantham), Stephen King (Jordy Verrill), Ted Danson (Harry Wentworth), Leslie Nielsen (Richard Vickers), Gaylen Ross (Becky Vickers), Hal Holbrook (Henry Northrup), Adrienne Barbeau (Wilma Northrup), Fritz Weaver (Dexter Stanley), Don Keefer (Mike the Janitor), Robert Harper (Charlie Gereson) and E.G. Marshall (Upson Pratt).


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Snowpiercer (2013, Bong Joon-ho)

Snowpiercer is relentless. There are three quiet moments; I’m not estimating, I’m counting. The final quiet moment comes with some commentary on the earlier quiet moments. The relentlessness is appropriate, as the film concerns a train traveling through a frozen wasteland housing the last survivors of the human race. It’s a post-apocalyptic rumination on remorse and violence. Director Bong treats the viewer as a passenger on the train, forcing the viewer’s perspective through protagonist Chris Evans.

At times, the film seems episodic, which is only appropriate as the first act comes to a close and Evans–along with his fellow insurgents (they’re the poor people in the rear of the train)–discovers the train’s cars are all different. So it’s appropriate the journey through those cars is going to be different. Vignettes might be a strong description, but maybe not. Especially not when considering how Bong lets supporting characters’ subplots play out in background.

The casting is flawless. While Tilda Swinton spectacularly chews through all of her scenes, there’s great work from Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Jamie Bell and Ewen Bremner. The three leads–Evans, Song Kang-ho and Ko Ah-sung–are all fantastic. Song only speaks Korean, but is excellent when just walking around. It’s a reluctant leading man performance from Evans; he, and all the other actors, show their characters’ sufferings without exposition.

Snowpiercer is also a visual feast. Bong’s presentation this train and its passengers is a constant surprise.

It’s a hard film; Bong doesn’t offer any quarter, neither does his cast.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bong Joon-ho; screenplay by Bong and Kelly Masterson, based on a screen story by Bong and the graphic novel by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette; director of photography, Hong Kyung-pyo; edited by Steve M. Choe; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Ondrej Nekvasil; produced by Jeong Tae-sung, Lee Tae-hun, Park Chan-wook and Steven Nam; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Chris Evans (Curtis), Song Kang-ho (Namgoong Minsu), Tilda Swinton (Mason), Jamie Bell (Edgar), Octavia Spencer (Tanya), Ewen Bremner (Andrew), Ko Ah-sung (Yona), Alison Pill (Teacher), Vlad Ivanov (Franco the Elder), Luke Pasqualino (Grey), John Hurt (Gilliam) and Ed Harris (Wilford).


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