Tag Archives: Gregory Hines

Wolfen (1981, Michael Wadleigh)

Even with Albert Finney’s hair style, which seems to be inspired by a drag queen who just doesn’t care, Wolfen is a beautifully made film. The big action sequence at the end (the film’s genre progresses from police procedural to horror to thriller–Finney’s investigation leads the way) is a fantastic sequence. I’d actually forgotten it was in the film; I haven’t seen it in ten years.

Wadleigh hasn’t directed anything else since Wolfen and it’s too bad. The film falls apart at the end when the “truth” is revealed in an obnoxious expositional scene instead of action (it’d be hard for it to be shown in action, since it’s a “the world is a lie” truth, but they needed something better), but he’s still a great director. He somehow makes the Panavision essential, something I questioned from the start. His instincts are solid and he even overcomes the assault rifle scene.

Okay, no, he doesn’t overcome the assault rifle scene, but he certainly exhibits enough talent it would have been possible for him to overcome it.

Wolfen‘s a small picture, not a lot of actors. There are the primaries, maybe three supporting, and then no more. There’s no awesome scene where Finney goes to pick up the assault rifles, to give one to his sidekick, coroner Hines.

Finney’s performance is problematic. He’s phoning it in, but with some of the script, there’s nothing else he could do.

Hines, Diane Venora and Dick O’Neill are good in this disappointing picture.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Wadleigh; screen story and screenplay by David Eyre and Wadleigh, based on the novel by Whitley Strieber; director of photography, Gerry Fisher; edited by Marshall M. Borden, Martin J. Bram, Dennis Dolan and Chris Lebenzon; music by James Horner; production designer, Paul Sylbert; produced by Rupert Hitzig; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Albert Finney (Dewey Wilson), Diane Venora (Rebecca Neff), Edward James Olmos (Eddie Holt), Gregory Hines (Whittington), Tom Noonan (Ferguson), Dick O’Neill (Warren), Dehl Berti (Old Indian), Peter Michael Goetz (Ross) and Sam Gray as the mayor.


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Running Scared (1986, Peter Hyams)

Jimmy Smits is pretty good in Running Scared. He’s a believable bad guy, intimidating even.

I don’t know why I’m opening with Smits, maybe because I’m in a good mood and want to be generous with praise for an unlikely recipient.

Running Scared is a delightful action comedy; I didn’t realize how much I missed the genre until I watched this film again. I haven’t seen it in years–I think I watched my laserdisc copy once before the advent of DVD and it didn’t impress me as much as I thought it would, seeing it widescreen. I hope I’m remembering the details wrong, because Peter Hyams was such a great mainstream director, it’d be a shame if I was such a foolish youth I didn’t appreciate it. Running Scared is it for Hyams–after this one, he cooked one turkey after another. But this film has such wonderful direction–Hyams doesn’t just know how to compose a Panavision frame, he also knows how to do an action scene in one. He knows how to move the camera. Running Scared is a great example of the lost art of action direction. It’s got a distinctive style all its own (it doesn’t look like a bevy of nondescript music videos) with Hyams really making the Chicago locations (and Florida ones) essential to the picture.

Hyams is responsible for the film’s (effortless) artistry in filmmaking–I always forget the guy hasn’t always been a punch line (and his much maligned cinematography is quite good in Running Scared). But the film’s a success because of stars Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal (I kept thinking, as the film progressed, they had a stupid argument at one point but they never do, their friendship’s always perfectly in pitch–I was waiting for this imaginary scene as a pitfall… maybe it’s a post-end credit scene or something). They each have fabulous dialogue (the screenwriters went on to nothing else of note, which makes me suspiciously Hines and Crystal might have ad-libbed some of it or there’s some fine comedy writers who anonymously doctored their material) and Hyams, who never made another good comedy, knows how to cut it all together. This long conversation they have, cut into different scenes, works beautifully.

Running Scared is an example of a film excited with itself. It offers its audience a 107 minute diversion and it knows it’s working (if the film weren’t connecting with the characters and the humor throughout, it wouldn’t be able to carry itself to the conclusion, which is one of its major successes).

Hines and Crystal create these personalities–they’re characters too, but they’re somehow different. It’s a mix of characterization and comedic personality… like Crystal and Hines did a bunch of movies together (but they only did this one) playing these types. Running Scared feels like they must have done more; it’s a shame they didn’t.

The supporting cast is uniformly solid. They don’t have a lot to do (Crystal’s love interest, a fourth billed Darlanne Fluegel, is simply a blonde ex-wife, while Hines’s, played by Tracy Reed, gets to create a fuller character), but they’re good. Dan Hedaya is sturdy as the boss, Joe Pantoliano is sturdy as a scum bag–these are early examples of the roles both would go on to play for years (though Pantoliano doesn’t make quite the impression he made as Guido the Killer Pimp).

Running Scared was more than a pleasant surprise–about a half hour in I realized it was a heck of a lot better than I remembered it being. It’s just too bad about Peter Hyams though. He never should have left MGM.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Hyams; screenplay by Gary DeVore and Jimmy Huston, based on a story by DeVore; director of photography, Hyams; edited by James Mitchell; music by Rod Temperton; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by David Foster and Lawrence Turman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Gregory Hines (Ray Hughes), Billy Crystal (Danny Costanzo), Darlanne Fluegel (Anna Costanzo), Joe Pantoliano (Snake), Dan Hedaya (Captain Logan), Steven Bauer (Det. Frank Sigliano), Jon Gries (Det. Tony Montoya), Tracy Reed (Maryann), Jimmy Smits (Julio Gonzales), John DiSanti (Vinnie), Larry Hankin (Ace) and Don Calfa (Women’s Room Lawyer).


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The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984, Frank Oz)

There’s something–well, actually a lot–missing from The Muppets Take Manhattan, but when I started the sentence, I was going to write “good songs.” None of the songs are terrible, but when the best song in the movie is the one to advertise the then upcoming “Muppet Babies” series… okay, I’m being a little mean… the “Somebody’s Getting Married” song sequence is really nice. But the rest of the songs are just there. Well, maybe not… I am remembering another good sequence, but the problem is the film is better remembered, than actually engaged, because the story’s so slight, it brings the movie down. But the rest of the songs–those aren’t very good, with the two exceptions and then the “Muppet Babies,” which is cuter than it is good.

Like the other movies, Manhattan uses celebrities in cameos, occasionally to good effect (Dabney Coleman and Gregory Hines), but the cameos are usually throwaways–bits to give the opportunity for Elliott Gould, for example, to show up–instead of actual story content. There isn’t really any story content in Manhattan, because it takes forever to decide what the movie’s crisis is going to be… until the last half hour even. Before that point, it’s all build-up–through possible crises (the Muppets breaking up, Miss Piggy getting jealous)–and the build-up is really boring. The mid-section makes the interesting choice of getting rid of the all the Muppets except Kermit, Piggy in a reduced role, and Rizzo the Rat. I’m not sure if they were grooming Rizzo or something… it sure seems like it, but I think it’s instead just another indicator of The Muppets Take Manhattan’s damning problem–Frank Oz.

As a director, Oz does a mediocre job. He creates a handful of charming scenes, but none of them are particularly special. As a screenwriter, along with a couple other jokers, he breaks the Muppets up and only uses, for the majority of the film, them in vignettes. These vignettes are the best part of the movie, because it’s the Muppets doing what the Muppets do… which should be, I don’t know, the movie… right?

The movie relies a lot on the human cast, particularly Juliana Donald as the object of Miss Piggy’s jealousy–while Donald is fine, she treats the role like a guest spot on the show rather than a person interacting. The other supporting cast are fine too, but their roles are even less import.

The New York locations and setting provides for a lot fewer good scenes than it should; besides a large, amusing Central Park sequence, most of the film takes place indoors. The opening titles suggest a big city adventure–as well as the Muppets, not a reduced cast of Muppets, having that adventure–and Oz delivers a movie centered around a coffee shop.

There’s no grandeur to the movie, nothing exciting overall, and it’s a pleasant disappointment.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Oz; screenplay by Oz, Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses, from a story by Patchett and Tarses; director of photography, Robert Paynter; edited by Evan A. Lottman; music by Ralph Burns; produced by David Lazar; released by Tri-Star Pictures

Starring Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Richard Hunt and Jerry Nelson as the Muppets.

Starring Juliana Donald (Jenny), Lonny Price (Ronnie), Louis Zorich (Pete), Art Carney (Bernard Crawford), Dabney Coleman (Martin Price), Gregory Hines (Roller skater), Linda Lavin (Kermit’s doctor), Joan Rivers (Perfume saleswoman), Elliott Gould (Cop in Pete’s), Frances Bergen (Winesop’s receptionist), John Landis (Winesop) and Edward I. Koch (The Honorable Edward I. Koch).


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White Nights (1985, Taylor Hackford)

It’s the perfect time for the White Nights post I’ve been slacking on.

Why have I been slacking? A combination of things. First and foremost, White Nights is a Columbia Picture. Sony releases Columbia Pictures on DVD and has not released White Nights in the US yet. If and when they do, those twits will probably release it pan and scan. We watched the lovely, anamorphic widescreen Japanese release. Even has Taylor Hackford commentary. Two, I’ve seen White Nights before and I don’t know how much I have to say about it. Three, maybe I’d have more to say or something different to say, if I didn’t watch the movie thinking how great an actor Gregory Hines really was, how unappreciated he was in the 1980s (how many good roles did he have in theatrical releases–I’ve actually seen Dead Air–seven or eight, depends on if you count History of the World or Eve of Destruction). Gregory Hines came and went and he shouldn’t have. The fact he’s dead without any acting recognition upset me throughout the film. Just now, I read he dropped out of 48 HRS. for The Cotton Club. So now I’m even more upset.

No one makes movies like White Nights anymore. Hollywood does not produce adult dramas not intended to be Oscar-nominees. It just doesn’t happen. Miramax has ruined adult cinema (and Adam Sandler and Mike Myers have ruined adult comedy).

White Nights is–I suppose–not entirely ludicrous. I have no idea what would have happened if Baryshnikov ended up in the Soviet Union somehow. So, I can accept it. The rest of the story is simple and paced over a couple weeks. The KGB sets Baryshnikov up with Hines, a tap-dancing American defector (over Vietnam), hoping to get world recognition for getting their defector back home. Getting him to give up the world of Western indulgences. Eventually, Baryshnikov escapes again. The end. I’m sure almost everyone’s seen this movie on late night TV (though not in beautiful anamorphic widescreen).

There’s Phil Collins music at some point but it’s that somehow okay Phil Collins 1980s music. Makes for good sequences. That Phil Collins. Not Phil Collins-Monkey Love Song Phil Collins. And it fits because Hackford produces an excellent package. His films are always well-produced. Against All Odds is not, you know, a good film, but it’s well-produced. In the context of the 1980s, I would have called Hackford mediocre. Now, I would have to call him good… comparably.

Nights isn’t a musical, but there’s a lot of dancing and it’s impossible not be awe of the two dancers. No offense to Hines (or tap dancing), but Baryshnikov is the more stunning. What the guy can do is amazing. I can’t do any of it. And neither can you, because you’d be doing it right now instead of wasting your time reading about some movie. My interest in the dancing, besides general appreciation, wanes. It’s not a musical, there’s a story coming before these sequences and they seem long when they’re interrupting that story. Some are great and Hackford does a good job with them. But the dancing makes White Nights good. It’s the peculiar nature of the story and of the actors.

For the majority of the film, Hines doesn’t like Baryshnikov and neither does the audience (though my fiancée seems to like his tush a lot). Baryshnikov is a selfish prig and it takes a while to warm to him. The differences between the Soviet Union and the United States and freedoms do come up, but those difference’s aren’t the character’s motivation. He’s just a selfish prig. There’s no ideology. And that lack makes him likable in the end. In other words, for four-fifths of the movie, it’s all about Hines. And he’s great. He turns an amazing performance, even when he’s got to be drunk and upset. The bad guy, of course, is the KGB guy. But, it’s not so simple because the KGB guy is a selfish prig too and turns out not to be inhuman. He’s just doing his job and he wants as good of a job as possible. And Helen Mirren’s in it and she’s great. So’s Geraldine Page. In fact, only Isabella Rossellini turns in a blah performance. But it’s Isabella Rossellini and she’s always blah, isn’t she?

So, White Nights is good. It’s an unexpected good. It does have a completely out of place Oscar-winning song, though. Lionel Richie sings what seems to be a song about friendship and I really wish there was a scene where Baryshnikov told Hines, “Believe in who you are, you are a shining star.” It’s not even in the movie, it plays over the end credits. How can a song get “Best Song” if it’s not in the movie? At least the songs in Irwin Allen’s disaster movies were in the movie a little….

White Nights reminds me–not too long ago even–most movies were okay. Most I’d see anyway. They were okay. Sticking with the Hackford oeuvre, Against All Odds isn’t any good, it really isn’t. But it’s not a crime against the human intellect. It’s not a Chris Klein movie or something. The 1980s constantly gets shit from people who think Britney Spears can sing or Hayden Christiansen can act. Sure, a lot of the films were incredibly derivative. Oh, you know, like bullet-time. White Nights is a reasonable example of that decade’s film output and it’s a good sign. It’s a sign the decade shouldn’t be ignored just because of John Hughes and Tony Scott.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Taylor Hackford; screenplay by James Goldman and Eric Hughes, from a story by Goldman; director of photography, David Watkin; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Michel Colombier; produced by Hackford and William S. Gilmore; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Mikhail Baryshnikov (Nikolai Rodchenko), Gregory Hines (Raymond Greenwood), Jerzy Skolimowski (Colonel Chaiko), Helen Mirren (Galina Ivanova), Geraldine Page (Anne Wyatt), Isabella Rossellini (Darya Greenwood), John Glover (Wynn Scott), Stefan Gryff (Captain Kirigin), William Hootkins (Chuck Malarek) and Shane Rimmer (Ambassador Smith).