Tag Archives: Frankie Faison

Maximum Overdrive (1986, Stephen King)

Maximum Overdrive confuses me a little. I thought–given the movie opens with the writer and director being insulted by a cash machine–Stephen King wasn’t going for anything… well, artistic is a stretch, so maybe genuine. Almost immediately following is a scene where a bunch of watermelons crash into car windshields to humorous effect. It certainly seems like King is well aware Overdrive has the potential to amuse and divert and nothing else….

I mean, he couldn’t have thought the acting was good, right? Emilio Estevez gives what could–I’m not a Estevez aficionado, I’m just guessing–be the worst performance of his career, if not the Estevez clan as a whole (though I think that pronouncement is something of a stretch). He affects a terrible Southern accent and appears to have the same backstory as his character in his own auteur debut, Wisdom, which begs the additional question–is King mocking his leading man?

The movie plays like some guy off the street got a million dollars to make a movie (except King got ten million from Dino De Laurentiis, in one of cinema history’s sounder financial investments). King’s got some neat ideas in the picture–though I think cool might be the better term… cool ideas–and some of them are competently pulled off. I really wish the unrated, ultra-violent version were available, just for the visuals. Maximum Overdrive is not scary, not once, not in the slightest. It’s a goofy sci-fi movie with aliens–it’s like Transformers without the transforming. But King clearly does enjoy himself during some of the movie.

Except it isn’t during the terrible scenes with Estevez or romantic interest Laura Harrington. Harrington is an unmitigated disaster–Overdrive rightly ended her career, at least for theatrical releases. Some of it–the lousy dialogue, could be construed as King’s fault… but she plays it all so straight, it’s like she doesn’t realize she’s delivering bad dialogue. Estevez doesn’t seem to be in on the joke either.

At least Pat Hingle relishes in his role, even if it’s to limited success. Yeardley Smith’s terrible too. Actually, the only good performance is probably John Short.

Anyway, King’s intent here gets confused at the end. Fifteen year-old Holter Graham (he’s real bad too, I forgot about him) is running around with an assault rifle, to the point it’s funny–not only does King run a kid over with a steamroller earlier, he gives another one an assault rifle to play with–only to have what seems to be an attempt at an honest scene. Graham’s father dies early on and after avenging him, Graham doesn’t want to touch the rifle again. It’s earnestly handled, which is a big mistake. If King had mocked the scene… at least it would have been fun.

King’s direction is singularly unimpressive. I don’t think he has one “good” shot in the entire movie and only a handful are bad enough to elicit laughter. His handling of the South is funny; he ridicules it in a way you wouldn’t expect a major motion picture to do… I guess he wasn’t worried about box office returns. The much-hyped (I guess it was back then, wasn’t it?) music from AC/DC is occasionally effective, even if they are just ripping off John Carpenter’s style.

In the interest of transparency, I need to mention it took me forever to get through the movie. If I’d gone to see it in a theater, I probably would have walked. There are long stretches when nothing dumb and funny happens and it’s just Estevez and Harrington–not even any gore. The gore’s actually not very gory and I can’t imagine why King had to cut any of it (thirteen seconds were infamously cut to make the R rating).

Wait… there was one decent sequence. Graham’s biking through a residential neighborhood where everyone’s been killed by some appliance or another (I won’t get started on how the possessed trucks and appliances don’t make any sense). It’s uncanny and effective.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen King; written by King, based on his story; director of photography, Armando Nannuzzi; edited by Evan A. Lottman; music by AC/DC; production designer, Giorgio Postiglione; produced by Martha De Laurentiis; released by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group.

Starring Emilio Estevez (Bill Robinson), Pat Hingle (Hendershot), Laura Harrington (Brett), Yeardley Smith (Connie), John Short (Curtis), Ellen McElduff (Wanda June), J.C. Quinn (Duncan), Christopher Murney (Camp Loman), Holter Graham (Deke) and Frankie Faison (Handy).


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The Silence of the Lambs (1991, Jonathan Demme)

No matter how hard Howard Shore’s score tries, The Silence of the Lambs is just a serial killer movie. I knew it was just a serial killer movie–that realization had occurred to me quite a long time ago–but its adherence to genre standards are still somewhat surprising. The movie wastes so much time on Anthony Hopkins, when he really has only a little to do with the actual story. Even taking into account he brings Jodie Foster into the big case, it doesn’t exactly matter. Foster’s momentous life change in the narrative is becoming an FBI agent, as the closing ceremony attests. Had the movie been about this cadet who got sucked into a huge case, ended up solving it by accident while having these disturbing encounters… well, then it would have made some sense.

The novel was a bestseller and, I’m assuming, Ted Tally felt the need to closely adapt it in regards to Hannibal Lecter. But what the script does is leave the Hopkins and Foster story incomplete while only giving a cursory examination of the actual investigation. Worse, Jonathan Demme lets the Lecter malarky distract from the one thing he has going. The escape, for example, eats up a bunch of running time–why, because the viewer is supposed to think the serial killer is cool for getting away so smart. The escape scene, the revelation of his intelligence and fast thinking, is not treated as a horrific event, rather something to be admired. It plays well on screen, sure, but we’re supposed to be admiring a serial killer.

That one thing Demme had? The way every single male in the first half of the movie ogled or propositioned Foster. It created a disquieting atmosphere and, when I was giving Demme some credit, gave the appearance of having some analog with the story of a man trying to become a woman. I don’t know how, but it doesn’t matter, because Demme flushed the whole subtext down the toilet once he got to do his big escape scene (with two cameos from Demme regulars, Buzz Kilman and Chris Isaak). The rampant sexism thing was never going to work or make Silence somehow special, but at least it would have been an interesting failure.

The acting’s okay. Hopkins has some okay moments, some not. Lots of the problems come from Demme’s annoying direction–he does his whole “stare directly into the camera while speaking” thing here. Foster’s equally problematic, because her character is never believable. I can’t picture her eating a sandwich, for instance, and the whole thing about her being really ambitious (masking insecurity), but she never shows it.

As the serial killer, Ted Levine is great. Anthony Heald is also great. Scott Glenn’s role is terribly written.

Demme runs hot and cold. With the exception of his close-ups, almost everything is good. The end, for instance, is rather scary.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Demme; screenplay by Ted Tally, based on the novel by Thomas Harris; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Craig McKay; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Kristi Zea; produced by Kenneth Utt, Edward Saxon and Ronald M. Bozman; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Jodie Foster (Clarice Starling), Anthony Hopkins (Dr. Hannibal Lecter), Scott Glenn (Jack Crawford), Anthony Heald (Dr. Frederick Chilton), Ted Levine (Jame Gumb), Frankie Faison (Barney Matthews), Kasi Lemmons (Ardelia Mapp), Brooke Smith (Catherine Martin), Paul Lazar (Pilcher) and Dan Butler (Roden).


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The Thomas Crown Affair (1999, John McTiernan)

Every time I watch Thomas Crown, I wonder if there’s some magical explanation for all John McTiernan’s other films (except Die Hard, which is, too, singular). Because The Thomas Crown Affair, as I love saying, is the last great utterly mainstream film. But there’s something more… the tone of the film, the Bill Conti score, the editing… it’s completely different but McTiernan knew what he was doing as he was making it. It’s clear from some of the longer sequences–the glider, for instance–but also from shorter ones, like Rene Russo despondent in the rain. McTiernan knew what he was putting together here.

But Thomas Crown is also–there’s a lot to get to, I’m hoping I remember everything–a New York movie. It’s not a New York movie in the sense a native made it, it doesn’t have that familiar excitement about the city, but it has the fan’s excitement, which makes me wonder if McTiernan just really liked shooting the third Die Hard there. The film has two major reminders of the original, Faye Dunaway’s excellent cameo (it’s the first time I can remember her having so much fun with a role) and the repeated uses of the song from the original (before the end credits Sting cover), and the original was not one of the famous 1970s New York movies, but McTiernan uses the city to–visually–set some of the film’s tone.

I’m thinking I should get Brosnan and Russo out of the way. I think, though I’m not a hundred percent sure (I’m remembering telling my mom about reading this tidbit), MGM was–back around 2000–thinking about a Thin Man remake with Brosnan and Russo. Saying it would work is about all I need to say about their performances and their chemistry. The film sets itself up to fail if the two of them don’t click, but also if Russo can’t pull off, essentially, becoming the lead in the second half. She and McTiernan handle the refocusing beautifully.

Since Russo does become the protagonist, it’s very important her supporting cast is helpful. Frankie Faison is great and the little moments and the exceptionally fast establishing of he and Russo’s camaraderie is fantastic. Denis Leary has the film’s least flashy role and gives an incredibly sturdy and deeply likable performance.

Both Leary and Faison’s characters raise some questions about the screenplay, which–as I recall–split duties. Leslie Dixon handled the relationship between Russo and Brosnan while Kurt Wimmer took over the rest (the heists and the pursuit). Either someone came in and did a fantastic evening draft or… it’s a seamless script, if it truly was written in that manner.

The Thomas Crown Affair is hard to easily sum up because it’s a confident success. McTiernan doesn’t make a single misstep–more, he makes a great move every chance he gets. It’s wonderful.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John McTiernan; screenplay by Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer, based on a story by Alan Trustman; director of photography, Tom Priestley; edited by John Wright; music by Bill Conti; production designer, Bruno Rubeo; produced by Pierce Brosnan and Beau St. Clair; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Pierce Brosnan (Thomas Crown), Rene Russo (Catherine Banning), Denis Leary (Michael McCann), Ben Gazzara (Andrew Wallace), Frankie Faison (Paretti), Fritz Weaver (John Reynolds), Charles Keating (Golchan), Esther Canadas (Anna), Mark Margolis (Knutzhorn) and Faye Dunaway (Psychiatrist).


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City of Hope (1991, John Sayles)

City of Hope is a raw John Sayles John Sayles movie. The camera follows the characters until it bumps into other characters, which is a simple, straightforward method, both a little more honest but also a little more amateurish. It introduces a gimmick into the film, which rarely does anything any good. It isn’t always the bumping characters–the most effective sequence is when, at the same time, separated by cuts, a bunch of characters decide to sell themselves out or not to sell out. But the bumping does pop again and it is noticeable. Maybe it’s a consequence of pan and scanning a 2.35:1 film (City of Hope, as far as I can ascertain, has never had a non-pan and scan video release). The pan and scan does hurt a little, but the gimmick would still be there, wider field of action or not. It’s not bad–films still do it today, good films, but they’re films made after Sayles (much like Sayles makes films after the Altman Nashville standard). It’s a raw artist in progress and it’s a thing sixteen years has made more noticeable. It doesn’t date the film, but City of Hope does have a visible place in Sayles’s body of work.

It’s also his most traditional story–one of the two primary storylines is Italian-Americans and their relationship to work and corruption. Sure, it’s political corruption–but the corrupt mayor is Italian. Vincent Spano’s character is also a very general lead for a Sayles film too–like I said, it’s all very raw. The other primary story, about Joe Morton’s attempt to be a successful and moral politician, is more radical. However, the Spano story, simply because Spano, and Tony Lo Bianco as his father, are so great. Joe Morton’s great too, but Sayles gives Spano a romance with Barbara Williams (who’s also fantastic). Watching certain moments in City of Hope, it’s obvious Sayles spent a lot of time figuring them out. There are some short car ride conversations he does beautifully, but also the scenes with Spano walking Williams home. Those scenes are amazing, pan and scan or not.

Where Sayles lifts the film from the norm is in the third act, when the viewer discovers it’s actually not all about people bumping into each other, or the titular City of Hope, which pops up three times at least, but is actually all about watching people corrupt themselves. There’s a wonderful juxtaposition of one woman telling her husband not to sell himself out, then congratulating him (that one’s from Macbeth, right?), with another not supporting dishonesty, after positioning herself to do so. Except every character in City of Hope, not just those four–with the exception of Williams, who’s a bit of a saint–eventually makes the choice to corrupt or redeem him or herself. Well, not redeem, but not further corrupt.

Besides the aforementioned, Tony Denison is great, so is Angela Bassett. Chris Cooper’s only in it for maybe four minutes, but in that time, it becomes clear his never becoming a leading man is a considerable tragedy for American cinema.

I’m probably less enthused about the film than I should be, but it’s only because I spent the entire time wondering how beautiful it must look in the right aspect ratio.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, directed and edited by John Sayles; director of photography, Robert Richardson; music by Mason Daring; production designers, Dan Bishop and Dianna Freas; produced by Sarah Green and Maggie Renzi; released by The Samuel Goldwyn Company.

Starring Vincent Spano (Nick), Tony Lo Bianco (Joe), Joe Morton (Wynn), Angela Bassett (Reesha), John Sayles (Carl), Gloria Foster (Jeanette), David Strathairn (Asteroid), Kevin Tighe (O’Brien), Barbara Williams (Angela), Joe Grifasi (Pauly), Louis Zorich (Mayor Baci), Gina Gershon (Laurie), Rose Gregorio (Pina), Bill Raymond (Les), Jace Alexander (Bobby), Todd Graff (Zip), Frankie Faison (Levonne), Tom Wright (Malik), Tony Denison (Rizzo), S.J. Lang (Bauer), Chris Cooper (Riggs), Stephen Mendillo (Yoyo), Josh Mostel (Mad Anthony), Daryl Edwards (Franklin) and Lawrence Tierney (Kerrigan).


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