Tag Archives: Gary Busey

The Buddy Holly Story (1978, Steve Rash)

There are three different things going on throughout The Buddy Holly Story. Well, more than three but there are the three big different things. There’s Robert Gittler’s screenplay, which has one narrative gesture for most of the film. There’s Gary Busey’s lead performance, which is resolute in both its sincerity and its anti-inscrutability. And there’s Rash’s direction, which enables both the script and the performance, but also leverages them to manage the scale.

Rash has a very determined narrative distance with The Buddy Holly Story. It’s Buddy Holly’s story. It’s Busey’s story. If he’s not in a scene, he’s about to be. Even when it’s not his scene, it ends up being his scene, because it’s all about him. Well, his performance. But Busey doesn’t do exposition. The performance doesn’t suggest a propensity for it, the script doesn’t pursue it. The other members in the band are there for exposition. Lovable standing bassist Charles Martin Smith and big but not dumb drummer Don Stroud. Even Amy Johnston, as Busey’s hometown girlfriend, expounds so Busey doesn’t. So the script’s got its own distance to its protagonist.

Because what the film becomes–and stays for quite a while–is these three guys journey into and through stardom. But not the pluses of stardom and not even the minuses (they’re implied and off-screen). They’re moving through the practicalities of it all. They’re at an information disadvantage, going from Lubbock to New York City by way of Nashville. Their actions can influence the trajectory but those actions tend to be reactions. Bluntly, the film positions the band as underdogs, even though they’re objectively not.

American music in the fifties had an enumeration of creatively significant artists working independently, simultaneously, and in both active and passive conjunction. Lots of big things happened in music, including Buddy Holly and some of the other musical acts portrayed in the film. Rash and Gittler consciously keep the characters’ anticipation and trepidation separate from the audience’s. The film is very sad. But it’s not sentimental. It’s sad. It’s guardedly, but enthusiastically nostalgic.

But it’s also very softly lighted–by Stevan Larner–on these often empty sets. Joel Schiller’s production design is great but outside musical set pieces, a lot of the film is just the three guys in sparse interiors. Usually without natural light sources. If there were fluorescent lights all over the place in the fifties, The Buddy Holly Story would be mostly in fluorescent lighted rooms with Busey discovering how far his creative ambitions can go and how to get them there and Stroud and Smith trying to keep up.

There are also bigger scenes, but they’re near vignettes. Like when Busey and the boys go play the Apollo and the white manager (Dick O’Neill) is terrified of putting up the three white boys from Texas for his black customers. The micro-subplot where Busey and the boys tour with Sam Cooke (Paul Mooney). They’re these clumps of larger scale scenes with the band scenes–which do eventually involve other supporting cast members, but as background–handling the narrative progress.

Then in the mid-to-late second act the film spotlights Busey as he branches off from the musical journey plot line to romance Maria Richwine. And the spotlight stays on Busey even away from those scenes. The film doesn’t really change its narrative distance, just its focus… by fading out around Busey. But never isolating him.

It’s a neat trick. Rash and Gittler do a lot with a lot. They’re even able to get away with the obviously historical location footage from establishing shots later on. It’s almost a gradual trust issue. The film doesn’t exactly lull its audience, but it invites a comfortable relationship.

Because the film is a true story and it’s a tragedy and even if you’re going into it completely unaware as a viewer, the filmmakers are aware and they take on certain responsibilities. And everyone making Buddy Holly Story–Rash, Gittler, Busey, Stroud, Smith, and whoever else–are embracing those responsibilities. The film’s astoundingly self-confident from the first scene. It’s never showy but it never meanders either. It doesn’t wander. Rash is guiding that flow, with a variety of styles, and each one has to hit just the right tone.

Not always easy when there are budgetary restrictions. Some of those interiors are sparser than they ought to be.

When the Story gets to the end, the film does just the right thing. It’s not an entirely unexpected thing, it’s not a surprise, but it’s neither the most or least obvious. But then Rash and Gittler haven’t been worried about the audience’s expectations, they’ve been tracking Busey’s. So it’s sort of the inevitable right thing. And you want it to go on forever.

The acting’s all good or better. Busey’s phenomenal. Then there’s the lip-synching. There isn’t any. So that enthusiastic nostalgia without any betraying of the verisimilitude and whatnot. Because Rash and Gittler are taking it seriously.

So it’s like it should be a surprise The Buddy Holly Story is such a success, but it also couldn’t be anything but.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Rash; screenplay by Robert Gittler, based on a story by Alan Swyer and a book by John Goldrosen; director of photography, Stevan Larner; edited by David E. Blewitt; music by Joe Renzetti; production designer, Joel Schiller; produced by Fred Bauer; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Gary Busey (Buddy), Maria Richwine (Maria), Charles Martin Smith (Ray Bob), Don Stroud (Jesse), Conrad Janis (Ross Turner), William Jordan (Riley), Amy Johnston (Cindy Lou), Dick O’Neill (Sol Gittler), Neva Patterson (Mrs. Ella Holly), Arch Johnson (Mr. Lawrence Holly), Gloria Irizarry (Mrs. Santiago), and Paul Mooney (Sam Cooke).


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Soldier (1998, Paul W.S. Anderson)

Someone must have realized Soldier had a lot of problems because there’s a terribly edited montage showing how Kurt Russell’s socially engineered future soldier is crushing on Connie Nielsen while her husband Sean Pertwee looks on in concern.

It gives Soldier a Shane feel, something the rest of the film doesn’t have. Like I said, it’s an awful montage–mixing footage from previous scenes and future ones with no sense of time–but all of Martin Hunter’s editing for Soldier is awful so it’s not a surprise.

Soldier‘s about Russell being replaced by genetically engineered future soldiers, who are “better”, and protecting a bunch of colonists whose spaceship crashed on the way to paradise. It’s a garbage planet too, which means it’s not really a Western in space… it’s a Western on a space garbage planet.

Anderson’s direction is occasionally mediocre, but mostly bad. He can’t figure out how to direct a fight scene, which is bad for the big finale between Russell and muscle-bound grotesque Jason Scott Lee. He also can’t direct his actors, so Gary Busey just embarrasses himself and Jason Isaacs is more cartoonish than Elmer Fudd.

There’s also a lot of slow motion and bad zooms and godawful music from Joel McNeely. Worse, the slow motion and worst music coincide; Anderson doesn’t trust his viewer to pick up on anything.

Russell’s not bad, though he can’t compete with the idiotic production. Sean Pertwee’s pretty good as Van Heflin, though his highlights are inexplicable.

Soldier‘s ghastly.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; written by David Webb Peoples; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Martin Hunter; music by Joel McNeely; production designer, David L. Snyder; produced by Jerry Weintraub; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kurt Russell (Todd 3465), Jason Scott Lee (Caine 607), Jason Isaacs (Colonel Mekum), Connie Nielsen (Sandra), Sean Pertwee (Mace), Jared Thorne & Taylor Thorne (Nathan), Mark Bringelsorn (Rubrick), Gary Busey (Church), K.K. Dodds (Sloan), James Black (Riley), Mark De Alessandro (Goines), Vladimir Orlov (Romero), Carsten Norgaard (Green), Duffy Gaver (Chelsey), Brenda Wehle (Hawkins), Michael Chiklis (Jimmy Pig), Elizabeth Dennehy (Mrs. Pig) and Paul Dillon (Slade).


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Lethal Weapon (1987, Richard Donner)

One of the more impressive things about Lethal Weapon is Danny Glover convincingly playing a fifty year-old at, approximately, the age of forty. It’s never a problem in a film rife with problems.

First, Lethal Weapon‘s plot doesn’t really make any sense. There are huge jumps in logic as Glover and Mel Gibson’s “investigation” proceeds. The problem with making a high profile action movie, ostensibly for somewhat thinking adults, is the film’s never believable as a police procedural. Shouldn’t Glover have been taken off the case when it’s revealed the victim died because her father contacted him?

Worse is the change in Gibson’s character–for the first twenty-five or so minutes, he’s supposed to be a suicidal nutcase, then the film realizes it’s a lot more funny to have him and Glover bicker in as heterosexual life partners. And they do have some great scenes together, but it makes all the references to the previously essayed suicidal nutcase moments fail miserably… especially the nonsensical ending.

There’s also the big fight scene between Gary Busey and Gibson, which is ludicrous (it’s also never believable Gibson was ever going to kill a defenseless Busey so including it was just a way to tread some running time water).

The big loud music from Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton doesn’t work overall. At times it’s as bad as smooth jazz on a gum commercial.

Donner’s got some great, discrete moments as a director here; he’s unappreciated.

It’s fine–engaging and icon-making.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; written by Shane Black; director of photography, Stephen Goldblatt; edited by Stuart Baird; music by Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton; production designer, J. Michael Riva; produced by Donner and Joel Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Gibson (Sergeant Martin Riggs), Danny Glover (Sergeant Roger Murtaugh), Gary Busey (Mr. Joshua), Mitch Ryan (General Peter McAllister), Tom Atkins (Michael Hunsaker), Darlene Love (Trish Murtaugh), Traci Wolfe (Rianne Murtaugh), Jackie Swanson (Amanda Hunsaker), Damon Hines (Nick Murtaugh), Ebonie Smith (Carrie Murtaugh) and Lycia Naff (Dixie).


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Predator 2 (1990, Stephen Hopkins)

Predator 2 is a great looking movie all because of director Hopkins. Early in the movie, right after a heavily Robocop influenced shoot-out (the whole first hour is nothing but a Robocop rip), Danny Glover’s up on a roof with the LA skyline behind him. Hopkins and cinematographer Peter Levy turn the shot sequence–it probably lasts thirty-five seconds–into a beautifully simple cinematic moment. It just looks perfect. There are quiet a few of these perfect moments in the film, which is probably why Predator 2 gets away with being so lame.

The first hour is wasted with supercop Glover and his team of bad actors (Rubén Blades is actually just mediocre, but Maria Conchita Alonso and Bill Paxton are terrible) chasing the Predator. While I can understand the reasoning behind hiding the Predator for the first hour–for those unfamiliar with the first film–it’s absurdly unnecessary. Killer aliens are a sci-fi standard. Actually, it was probably budgetary. Anyway, Hopkins compensates with some good angry cops fighting against oblivious superiors shots and giving the whole first hour a horror feel. It’s cheap and deceptive, but he makes up for it in the end.

Predator 2 ends with a lengthy–around twenty minute–chase scene. Thirty minutes if you disregard a six minute break for Glover to find out all about the first movie (you’d think he would have seen it).

While Glover’s good in the leading role, the script’s so bad–he’s constantly making heated, macho movie man observations–there’s little he can do with it. His best scenes are the ones where some subtext is implied (given the movie has none). Producer Joel Silver opened his regular acting stable out for Predator 2–Gary Busey, Robert Davi and Steve Kahan–and, along with Glover, it feels like an attempt to remind people of Lethal Weapon.

Busey’s awful, no surprise, but the terrible supporting cast is a little bewildering. They should have been able to hire some decent character actors–Kent McCord is particularly bad and Adam Baldwin is laughable. Any movie where Morton Downey Jr. gives one of the better performances is trouble.

But those last twenty minutes make up for everything. It’s a chase scene across rooftops, beautifully directed. Hopkins really doesn’t get enough credit. The conclusion–with the various money shots (a dozen additional Predators)–is idiotic (what were all these other Predators doing while the main one was out hunting, watching Maury Povich?), but it looks kind of cool and Predator 2 doesn’t encourage any thoughtful consideration. In fact, it strives not to encourage that sort of thing.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Hopkins; written by Jim Thomas and John Thomas; director of photography, Peter Levy; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Bert Lovitt; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Lawrence Gordon, Joel Silver and John Davis; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Danny Glover (Harrigan), Gary Busey (Keyes), Rubén Blades (Danny), Maria Conchita Alonso (Leona), Bill Paxton (Lambert), Robert Davi (Captain Heinemann), Adam Baldwin (Garber), Kent McCord (Captain Pilgrim), Morton Downey Jr. (Tony Pope), Calvin Lockhart (King Willie) and Kevin Peter Hall (The Predator).