Tag Archives: Graham Greene

Maverick (1994, Richard Donner)

Maverick is a lot of fun. In fact, it’s so much fun, when the film runs into problems in its second act, it’s impossible to be disappointed. It’s still so likable, one just feels bad it doesn’t maintain its quality.

There are two major problems. The first is the music. When the film starts–and for the majority of the run time–it’s a Western. It’s a very funny Western and has an affable Randy Newman score. Then it becomes a poker game movie… and the music inexplicably becomes modern country Western music. There’s one painful montage in particular where the music choice saps the energy of the film.

The second problem is the conclusion. William Goldman has a lot of fun with the twists at Maverick‘s finish and they’re nice to watch unravel… but it’s still a lot of padding. Alfred Molina’s character, for example, gets summarized in the conclusion instead of getting his due.

Molina gives the film’s most impressive performance. He’s creepy and dangerous; a very physical performance without much show of force. Just fantastic.

Mel Gibson’s great, so’s Jodie Foster, so’s James Garner. But the film’s made for them. I guess Foster, who doesn’t usually bring as much personality, is the standout of the three.

Graham Greene’s hilarious too.

Donner does fine. He and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond conceive an excellent Western. Donner primarily concentrates on the mood and the actors. Zsigmond and the scenery handle the rest.

Maverick is a joy, even with its bumps.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by William Goldman, based on the television series created by Roy Huggins; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Stuart Baird and Michael Kelly; music by Randy Newman; production designer, Thomas E. Sanders; produced by Donner and Bruce Davey; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Gibson (Bret Maverick), Jodie Foster (Annabelle Bransford), James Garner (Marshal Zane Cooper), Graham Greene (Joseph), Alfred Molina (Angel), James Coburn (Commodore Duvall), Dub Taylor (Room Clerk), Geoffrey Lewis (Matthew Wicker), Paul L. Smith (The Archduke), Dan Hedaya (Twitchy, Riverboat Poker Player), Dennis Fimple (Stuttering), Denver Pyle (Old Gambler on Riverboat), Clint Black (Sweet-Faced Gambler) and Max Perlich (Johnny Hardin).


RELATED

Advertisements

Just Buried (2007, Chaz Thorne)

It’s a terrible thing to say, but I can’t figure out why Rose Byrne did this movie. Not to knock it with a generalization, but Just Buried‘s a Canadian production. Even though Jay Baruchel’s on the rise, besides her, everyone in the principal cast is Canadian. For a while, I thought I had it figured out–why Byrne would do the film. For the first half, it’s a black comedy about she and Baruchel accidentally killing people and their funeral home profiting. Her character’s interesting, she and Baruchel have chemistry, the script still seems like it might develop somewhere. The script’s the most disappointing thing about Just Buried–it’s so full of potential and Thorne wastes all of it. Instead of doing a peculiar black comedy–the film’s still a black comedy in the end, but it’s a cheap farce of one, a TV movie black comedy, the kind USA would do in the mid-1990s after To Die For. It goes from being a pleasant surprise to a dismal failure, with Byrne’s presence somehow being its greatest setback. Seeing her–she’s excellent throughout, even in the end–essaying the crappy parts of the script… it’s depressing. It maddens.

Here’s what Thorne wastes. There aren’t really any spoilers, but I need to get the list down. He wastes a loser moving from a city where he flounders to a small town where he prospers. He wastes a son getting it on with his father’s trophy widow. He wastes a priest who drinks, plays poker and eyeballs girls. I’m trying to think of what else, but maybe I don’t want to remember it. Thorne flushes away all that potential, instead using each of them for a couple or three jokes. Instead of embracing what makes Just Buried unique, he goes with what makes it common. He turns more than the film into a farce, he turns the viewer’s experience into one as well.

Oh, I just remembered what I forgot (and, yes, it does depress me to recall). Just Buried has some of the finest people hanging out and drinking scenes I think I’ve ever seen on film. Baruchel and Byrne go on a couple of late night benders and Thorne beautifully captures the reality of it, each person’s relative solitude. These scenes happen in the first half, when Just Buried still has a bunch of potential.

Thorne obviously thinks he’s pretty witty with the conclusion, because he’s put clues in the film throughout. Sure, they require people not being able to hear what people whisper to other people, no matter how close they are, but whatever. Once the inevitable conclusion becomes clear–Thorne’s camera sits calmly for too long, like he forgot what they were shooting and just kept rolling–Just Buried just gets boring. Thorne has abandoned his characters, leaving the actors to drown.

Byrne’s great. Graham Greene’s pretty good. Baruchel’s very good in the first half, with his big transition not coming through so well. Sergio Di Zio is hilarious as the priest brother and Reagan Pasternak is funny as the stepmother. Nigel Bennett, Thomas Gibson and Brian Downey all appear to be sleepwalking through their performances, letting their costumes (two cops and an ex-clown) do the heavy lifting.

After Just Buried leapt off its cliff, I kept hoping Thorne knew what he was doing. He apparently does not.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Chaz Thorne; director of photography, Christopher Porter; edited by Christopher Cooper; music by Darren Fung and Scott Loane; production designer, William Fleming; produced by Nigel Bennett, Pen Densham, Bill Niven, Thorne and John Watson; released by Seville Pictures.

Starring Rose Byrne (Roberta Knickel), Jay Baruchel (Oliver Whynacht), Graham Greene (Henry Sanipass), Nigel Bennett (Chief Knickle), Sergio Di Zio (Jackie Whynacht), Reagan Pasternak (Luanne), Thomas Gibson (Charlie Richmond), Brian Downey (Pickles), Slavko Negulic (Armin Imholz), Jeremy Akerman (Rollie Whynacht) and Christopher Shore (Wayne Snarr).


RELATED

Our Man in Havana (1959, Carol Reed)

As Our Man in Havana opened, I couldn’t help thinking of Touch of Evil. Reed uses a cock-eyed angle a few times throughout the film and it looks like Evil. The music doesn’t hurt either. Except, I hadn’t realized it was Reed–the opening titles start a few minutes in to the film–and then all I could think about was The Third Man for the opening titles. The film picks up immediately following, so the preoccupation didn’t last.

Our Man in Havana is a quiet film. A quiet film with a loud music, but a quiet film. It’s hard to explain, or maybe not so much–it’s quiet in the scenes where Maureen O’Hara and Alec Guinness communicate silently and it’s quiet in the scenes where Guinness has to do things and can’t tell anyone, including the audience. It gets even quieter than those two examples, but I don’t really want to spoil anything.

The film is an odd mix of comedy and suspense. Reed handles the mood perfectly, even treating some of Guinness scenes–the early ones–like old Ealing comedies. It all changes when O’Hara arrives, then the film becomes strangely Hollywood–before, with just Burl Ives and Ernie Kovacs, Havana seems small and peculiar, but when O’Hara shows up (in one of those quiet scenes) she signals a change–not just to film’s atmosphere or to the second act accelerating, but to Guinness’s character as well. The small British comedy–albeit in Cinemascope–has all of a sudden gotten out of his hands.

There’s not a false step in the film, from the first few moments with Noel Coward’s small role as Guinness’s recruiter. It’s an Ealing comedy about British people abroad, mixed with a spy thriller, but the result is … obviously, quiet. It’s a quiet film about expatriates and the friendship among them. For some of it. Towards the end, it shaves off even the expatriates part and just becomes about friendship. (Quietly, of course).

Guinness is perfect and Ives and O’Hara are both great–their scenes together, Guinness and Ives and Guinness and O’Hara, are wonderful–but the most surprising performance is Kovacs. He brings this humanity and a sadness to his performance, in a role those traits would seem to be incompatible and creates a lot of beautiful moments in the third act.

Our Man in Havana is shamefully unavailable in region one (it’s out in the UK). It’s certainly a reason for one to investigate as a region-free DVD player.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Carol Reed; screenplay by Graham Greene, based on his novel; director of photography, Oswald Morris; edited by Bert Bates; music by Frank Deniz and Laurence Deniz; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Alec Guinness (Jim Wormold), Burl Ives (Dr. Hasselbacher), Maureen O’Hara (Beatrice Severn), Ernie Kovacs (Capt. Segura), Noel Coward (Hawthorne), Ralph Richardson (‘C’), Jo Morrow (Milly Wormold), Grégoire Aslan (Cifuentes) and Paul Rogers (Hubert Carter).


RELATED

The Fugitive (1947, John Ford)

While filming Citizen Kane, Orson Welles screened John Ford’s Stagecoach every night. He said everything one could do in film was done in Stagecoach. Maybe Ford heard about it, because The Fugitive looks like an Orson Welles film… and it’s not just the foreign (Mexico) shooting location with American actors surrounded by non-English speaking extras. The Fugitive is Ford’s oddest sound picture. Large portions of it don’t even need sound, just ambient music and noises. There are long sequences without any necessary speech, there’s even moments where dialogue is muted, overpowered by street music. During the scenes filmed in the Mexican city… you’d think it was Touch of Evil.

However, Ford is not the same kind of director as Welles. What works for Welles does not work for Ford. The Fugitive is arranged as a series of vignettes, but Ford can’t get enough oomph going to distinguish one from the other. Sure, there’s the change in sound design, but the storytelling focus doesn’t change. It’s easily Ford’s most experimental work–it’s easily one of the most experimental works I’ve seen from a Hollywood director–but the script works against it, particularly in the end, when the film’s finally turning around.

The Fugitive is set in a newly Fascist South American country where Catholic priests are hunted and executed. Henry Fonda–playing a native alongside Mexican actors–is less than stellar in the lead. First, Fonda’s a straightforward actor and The Fugitive attempts to veer. Second, and more, the fugitive is the subject of The Fugitive, not the protagonist. It’s about a handful of characters who encounter this fugitive priest, not the story of a fugitive priest encountering and reencountering a bunch of people. As far as these people go, obviously, Ward Bond is the best. He’s the only American playing an American and he’s got some great moments as a fellow fugitive. Robert Armstrong, not playing an American, is good in a blink-and-you-miss it role–his part made me think most of Welles’ style of handling cameos. The worst–in the film–is easily J. Carrol Naish, who’s in full makeup as an Indian. He’s irritating beyond belief and silly on top of it. I think he was under contract at RKO at the time. Of the Mexican actors, Pedro Armendáriz is the best, but the script fails him time and again. More than anyone else, The Fugitive is about Armendáriz and someone missed it. The other lead, Dolores del Rio, is all right, but Ford gives her these loving shots and… I don’t know, it’s hard to take her seriously with all that soft light.

Even with all the problems–it’s boring on top of it all; Ford did not know how to carry long sequences without dialogue or action–it’s still worth a look. Oddly enough, a film professor once told me it was Ford’s favorite of his films.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Ford; screenplay by Dudley Nichols, based on a novel by Graham Greene; director of photography, Gabriel Figueroa; edited by Jack Murray; music by Richard Hageman; produced by Ford and Merian C. Cooper; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Henry Fonda (A Fugitive), Dolores del Rio (An Indian Woman), Pedro Armendáriz (A Lieutenant of Police), J. Carrol Naish (A Police Informer), Leo Carrillo (The Chief of Police), Ward Bond (El Gringo) and Robert Armstrong (A Police Sergeant).


RELATED