Tag Archives: Embassy Pictures

Scanners (1981, David Cronenberg)

About a half hour into Scanners, the film starts to run out of its initial steam. Director Cronenberg (who also scripted) opens the film with some dynamic set pieces–lead Stephen Lack mind frying a mean woman, Lack on the run from goons, Patrick McGoohan chaining Lack down and torturing him (apparently), and Michael Ironside blowing up some guy’s head with his mind. Scanners is a lot right off. Oh, and then a car chase action sequence after the head explosion. Again, it’s a lot.

And then it’s time for the first exposition dump. McGoohan is trying to find “good” Scanners, who are telepaths, like Lack. Ironside is trying to find bad ones. Both want them as biological weapons, McGoohan just wants to sell them to humans. Ironside wants to subjugate the humans. Not all that information comes out at the first info dump, mostly just McGoohan bickering with security chief Lawrence Dane. Dane doesn’t trust McGoohan, but Cronenberg wants the viewer to side against Dane. It’s a confusing turn of events at the end, just because McGoohan’s not a sympathetic character and Dane seems square but level-headed.

Then Lack comes in and goes on a secret mission around Canada as a double agent to join Ironside’s group. Previous to this point in his life story, Lack’s character had been homeless. Now he’s a well-dressed Canadian, kind of a maple syrup James Bond. Only he’s not particularly good at the secret agent stuff. Eventually he meets a girl Scanner–Jennifer O’Neill–who he actually treats terribly and roughly, which is a little disconcerting at times because apparently Lack is supposed to be sympathetic and likable. He’s not, of course, because his performance has all the life of a once damp towel. Same for O’Neill. Same for McGoohan. Dane gives the film’s best performance almost by default.

Well, except for Ironside. I mean, Cronenberg front loads the film with action. He saves some effects work for the grand finale, but there’s no action to it. There’s exposition, there’s pointless contrivance. Cronenberg keeps throwing out big revelations to try to get some emotional connection to the characters, but they’re impervious–Ironside should be intellectually sympathetic but Cronenberg can’t swing it. He really does rely on Lack instead and Lack crumbles, time and again.

But until the late second act, Ironside’s a perfectly good thuggish villain. Sure, he’s also a millionaire war profiteer but it’s Canada, it’s just how Canadian millionaire war profiteering Scanners who operate out of desolate office parks operate.

Nice photography from Mark Irwin, some occasionally strong editing from Ronald Sanders. Once O’Neill and Lack have teamed up in their chemistry-free quest for… it’s unclear. Cronenberg has at least two jumbo red herrings in the script just to keep things moving, which might work at ninety minutes but at over a hundred it’s a slog.

Howard Shore’s music is competent, occasionally Hitchcockian, but most often too much. Cronenberg never really gets a sense of the locations in the film and Shore’s music defaults to filling in mood. But it’s not good at filling in mood.

Really, until O’Neill shows up and becomes Lack’s Eva Marie Saint, Scanners can almost get through. Cronenberg’s got Dane, he’s got Ironside. Sure, Lack’s vacant but maybe he’s supposed to be vacant in that poorly acted way. The strange part about the film is how the first act’s well-plotted. Shame the rest of it is either aimless or misguided.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by David Cronenberg; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Ronald Sanders; music by Howard Shore; produced by Claude Hèroux; released by AVCO Embassy Pictures.

Starring Stephen Lack (Cameron Vale), Patrick McGoohan (Dr. Paul Ruth), Jennifer O’Neill (Kim Obrist), Michael Ironside (Darryl Revok), Lawrence Dane (Braedon Keller), and Robert A. Silverman (Benjamin Pierce).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE O CANADA BLOGATHON HOSTED BY RUTH OF SILVER SCREENINGS and KRISTINA OF SPEAKEASY


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The Oscar (1966, Russell Rouse)

The Oscar is a spectacular kind of awful. It’s the perfect storm of content, casting and technical ineptitude. Director Rouse probably doesn’t have a single good shot in the entire film. It might not even be possible with Joseph Ruttenberg’s photography and the maybe studio television level of the set decoration. Though there is this inexplicably good shot of Eleanor Parker during her awful monologue.

Oh, right, the awful monologues. Not everyone gets one. Parker gets one, Jill St. John gets one, Tony Bennett gets one, Milton Berle gets one–okay, well, actually pretty much everyone gets one and they’re part of what makes The Oscar such a worthwhile terrible movie. Rouse seems completely unaware lead Stephen Boyd is supposed to be playing a jerk. He’s also completely unaware lead Stephen Boyd is giving a truly awful performance. Tony Bennett is really bad too, but he’s in it less. It’s all bad Boyd, all the time.

Elke Sommer’s Boyd’s wife. I think she may have the shortest monologue. The Oscar–Rouse and cowriters Harlan Ellison and Clarence Greene in particular–doesn’t think much of Sommer. She’s a flakey virginal hippie. Boyd must seduce aware her innocence but then she disgusts him. Right after she disgusts him, Sommer’s wardrobe essentially becomes exquisite and quite revealing lingerie. She’s got a scene at the end of the movie–maybe even her monologue moment but it’s out of character so less effective–but otherwise she becomes background.

Berle and Parker do as best with what they can. They’re old Hollywood players, Parker should know better than to lust, which Berle has to remind her about because he’s the virtuous dude. Cotten’s a virtuous dude too but he’s got nothing going on. He’s not dynamic enough for the part. It’s not like he’s Orson Welles signing the standard rich and famous contract for Boyd.

Edie Adams is legitimately good, ditto Peter Lawford. St. John tries and it helps a lot, especially since she gets nothing off her costars. Ernest Borgnine is fine but like a sleazy detective on a family show. He’s not supposed to be too sleazy, he’s somebody’s drunken, blackmailing uncle after all.

Really bad–really amusingly bad–music from Percy Faith. The script is a strange mix of okay one-liners, creepy misogyny and lame dialogue.

The only actual good thing about The Oscar is Edith Head–who even cameos–and her gowns. They’re stunning. Rouse doesn’t know he’s got this Edith Head fashion show to be directing. Instead he’s doing a… well, it’s impossible to say. You actually have to see The Oscar to understand The Oscar.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Rouse; screenplay by Harlan Ellison, Rouse and Clarence Greene; director of photography, Joseph Ruttenberg; edited by Chester W. Schaeffer; music by Percy Faith; produced by Greene; released by Embassy Pictures.

Starring Stephen Boyd (Frank Fane), Tony Bennett (Hymie Kelly), Elke Sommer (Kay Bergdahl), Milton Berle (Kappy Kapstetter), Joseph Cotten (Kenneth Regan), Eleanor Parker (Sophie Cantaro), Jill St. John (Laurel Scott), Edie Adams (Trina Yale), Ernest Borgnine (Barney Yale) and Peter Lawford (Steve Marks).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 3: BARONESS.

Godzilla, King of Monsters! (1956, Terry O. Morse and Honda Ishirô)

Morse didn’t just direct the added American scenes for Godzilla, King of Monsters! but also did the hatchet job editing it.

The concept–adding in footage of a reporter reporting on what would be an international news event–isn’t bad. But Morse (aided, undoubtedly, by Al C. Ward’s awful scripting) contrives a way to shoehorn Raymond Burr’s American reporter into all of the original Godzilla story. Even though Burr doesn’t have a single scene with Hirata Akihiko’s scientist, Monsters makes them old college chums and Burr inexplicably talks to Hirata’s stand-in on the phone.

I suppose Morse and Ward thought it was necessary to tie plots together, but at most it added two and a half minutes of runtime. Morse could have just recycled the “stairs to the hospital” shot a fourth time.

As for Burr, he’s not very good. The cheapness of his scenes–particularly the one where he’s in a helicopter but sitting in an office–probably hurt the performance. For example, when he’s actual in a torrential downpour, he’s convincing. However, Morse could have spent that money better making sure Burr had a real presence in the third act instead of standing in the background.

The voiceover cast is uniformly terrible, ruining the performances of the original actors. The other American cast is fifty-fifty–Frank Iwanaga is great as Burr’s sidekick (Monsters‘s should’ve been focused on them), but Mikel Conrad’s atrocious as his boss.

With the original version readily available, Monsters should be avoided.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Terry O. Morse and Honda Ishirô; screenplay by Murata Takeo, Honda and Al C. Ward, based on a story by Kayama Shigeru; directors of photography, Tamai Masao and Guy Roe; edited by Morse; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Chûko Satoru; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki, Edward B. Barison, Richard Kay and Harry Rybnick; released by Embassy Pictures.

Starring Raymond Burr (Steve Martin), Shimura Takashi (Dr. Yamane), Kôchi Momoko (Emiko), Hirata Akihiko (Dr. Serizawa), Takarada Akira (Ogata), Frank Iwanaga (Tomo Iwanaga), Sakai Sachio (Hagiwara), Murakami Fuyuki (Dr. Tabata), Yamamoto Ren (Seiji), Suzuki Toyoaki (Shinkichi), Okabe Tadashi (Dr. Tabata’s Assistant), Ogawa Toranosuke (President of Company) and Mikel Conrad (George Lawrence).



This post is part of the Sum Up | Godzilla, Part One: Showa.

Escape from New York (1981, John Carpenter)

Man and boy, I’ve probably seen Escape from New York ten times. This viewing might be the first where I noticed the film’s quietness. Carpenter uses the relative silence to make the first third (even before Isaac Hayes shows up), the most memorable parts of the film.

Some of that memorable quality has more to do with Carpenter’s approach than the script. The flying sequence is phenomenal. The deliberate cuts between Kurt Russell, delicately lighted in the cockpit, and the glider silently moving through the New York streets, the music barely audible… it’s one of Carpenter’s more “beautiful” moments as a director.

That sequence also showcases how Carpenter and his crew were able to take a lower budgeted picture like New York and make it more impressive than most big releases of the day. Carpenter sets up a dystopian future, but make the futuristic aspects imaginative and thrilling to the audience.

Lots of seventies Carpenter regulars show up–Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Stephens (not to mention Donald Pleasence and Adrienne Barbeau)–but the additional supporting cast members are iconic. Obviously, Isaac Hayes as the Duke of New York is a flashy role, but Harry Dean Stanton and Ernest Borgnine are great too.

In a very Altman fashion, suggests these complex relationships–particularly Barbeau and Stanton, but also Russell and Van Cleef–and lets the viewer decide for him or herself. He does something similar with Pleasence’s finish.

The film is a significant masterpiece, something I’m not vocal enough about.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by Carpenter and Nick Castle; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Todd C. Ramsay; music by Carpenter in association with Alan Howarth; production designer, Joe Alves; produced by Larry J. Franco and Debra Hill; released by Embassy Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (Snake Plissken), Lee Van Cleef (Hauk), Ernest Borgnine (Cabbie), Donald Pleasence (The President), Harry Dean Stanton (Brain), Isaac Hayes (The Duke), Tom Atkins (Rehme), Charles Cyphers (The Secretary of State), Season Hubley (Girl in Chock Full O’Nuts) and Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | JOHN CARPENTER, PART 1: THE WONDER YEARS.
THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) / 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK (1983).