Tag Archives: Howard Shore

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 Fly (1986, David Cronenberg)

The Fly starts with perfect economy. Director Cronenberg does not waste time with introductions or establishing shots–whenever there’s an exterior shot in the film, it comes as surprise, even after Cronenberg opens it up a little. There’s Jeff Goldblum, he’s a scientist, and there’s Geena Davis. She’s a reporter. The film conveys this expository information by having her interview him. It’s perfect.

And that perfect economy keeps going for quite a while, maybe even half the film. A lot happens during that first half–mad science, romance, jealousy, all sorts of things–and it’s outstanding. Goldblum and Davis are great together, John Getz is excellent as her weird, slightly creepy ex-boyfriend and boss. Cronenberg’s direction is exquisite; he’s utterly focused on these three actors. Even the science fiction visual exposition gets downplayed.

Then there’s a shift, a small one, as Goldblum’s character begins to “turn.” Cronenberg doesn’t allow many horror film sensibilities in The Fly. Instead of trying to terrify the audience visually with Goldblum, Cronenberg pulls back and Goldblum disappears. It’s a problem, because the film loses its momentum and never regains it.

Wait, I forgot–there’s one big horror movie sensibility… a dream sequence. It’s cheap. It’s gross and effective, but it’s narratively cheap.

Amazing special effects from Chris Walas, a nice score from Howard Shore, excellent cinematography from Mark Irwin. The Fly ’s a good looking (and sounding) picture.

Unfortunately, Cronenberg’s ambitions decline as the film finally has to deliver the horror.

Still, pretty good stuff.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Cronenberg; screenplay by Charles Edward Pogue and Cronenberg, based on the story by George Langelaan; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Ronald Sanders; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Carol Spier; produced by Stuart Cornfeld; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jeff Goldblum (Seth Brundle), Geena Davis (Veronica Quaife) and John Getz (Stathis Borans).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | THE FLY (1986) / THE FLY II (1989).

Moving (1988, Alan Metter)

I really wish–even though the cameo is great–Morris Day wasn’t in Moving. If he weren’t, one could make the argument all the terrible people are white and all the good people (basically Richard Pryor and his family) are black.

But Day shows up for a funny moment. Oh, and bad guy mover Ji-Tu Cumbuka is black too.

Race isn’t actually an issue in Moving (except when Pryor gets confused for a robber and even then they don’t press it). I was just trying to find something interesting to say about the film.

Pryor can apparently rise above any material, even writer Breckman’s script–Breckman eventually has Pryor donning body armor and running around Boise, Idaho with a bunch of guns (he got the gun part right, though I think there are more black people in the film than there are in Idaho state).

Beverly Todd is fine as Pryor’s wife, though the script eventually falls out from under her and she’s left to just silently follow him around. Stacey Dash manages to be weak but appealing as the daughter. As twin sons, Raphael and Ishmael Harris are likable.

Randy Quaid falls flat in a Vacation variation, but Dana Carvey is absolutely hilarious as a car mover with multiple personalities. Conversely, everyone else in the film lacks personality.

Howard Shore’s music’s innocuous, as is Metter’s direction (though there are a few good shots).

It’s like they’re trying to do a W.C. Fields movie for modernity.

It doesn’t work.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Alan Metter; written by Andy Breckman; director of photography, Donald McAlpine; edited by Alan Balsam; music by Howard Shore; production designer, David L. Snyder; produced by Stuart Cornfeld; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Richard Pryor (Arlo Pear), Beverly Todd (Monica Pear), Dave Thomas (Gary Marcus), Dana Carvey (Brad Williams), Randy Quaid (Frank / Cornall Crawford), Stacey Dash (Casey Pear), Raphael Harris (Marshall Pear), Ishmael Harris (Randy Pear), Morris Day (Rudy), Ji-Tu Cumbuka (Edwards), King Kong Bundy (Gorgo), Alan Oppenheimer (Mr. Cadell), Gordon Jump (Simon Eberhart), Bill Wiley (Arnold Butterworth), Bibi Osterwald (Crystal Butterworth) and Paul Willson (Mr. Seeger).


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Doubt (2008, John Patrick Shanley)

There’s a good movie somewhere in the idea of Doubt (a nun suspects a priest of molesting a child, but it’s 1964 and the patriarchy of the Church isn’t going to listen to her). The film’s full of almost detective moments (and faux-auteur Shanley pulls out some Hitchcock angles after the big reveal), but the film never embraces that nature. As a character study masquerading as a detective story, Doubt would have been fantastic. As an awkward conversation drama–Shanley opens the film in the church’s neighborhood, then never returns to this neighborhood, it’s all malarky to make a theater adaptation seem opened up for the screen–it’s a failure.

The fault lies, obviously, with Shanley. There are two major problems with his script here. First, either Philip Seymour Hoffman is a good guy priest unduly hunted by Streep or he’s a child molester. I’m sure Shanley feels the movie–ultimately–lets the viewer decide, but that position isn’t just a cop-out (Doubt is in no way a piece about the way people talk to each other so it doesn’t get any leeway for being wishy-washy), it’s also a load. The entire movie, Shanley makes ever action Hoffman takes suspicious. It’s like watching, well, Suspicion. Presumably, the viewer is supposed to wait for proof, for the climatic showdown between Streep and Hoffman where all is revealed. Here’s the problem–if Hoffman’s a pederast, if there’s even a possibility of it, why not just judge him right out. It’s not like Shanley’s just making a movie about a guy killing his wife or robbing a bank, Doubt‘s an argument to–against all the weighted evidence Shanley presents–give the pederast the benefit of the (sorry) doubt. It’s kind of an icky feeling.

The second problem is the lack of character depth. Again, I’m sure Shanley thinks it’s all about the way things play out objectively, but the characters all have hints of depth, but it’s just matte paintings. Streep could have one of her most interesting characters in this part of her career, but instead, she’s playing a mix of the Emperor from Star Wars, the Wicked Witch, Grampa Simpson and the bad lady from Sleeping Beauty. It’s amazing she turns in such a good performance, especially since Shanley wrote most of her dialogue and reactions to get laughs. Her funniest line, the one where Doubt becomes a hilariously turgid melodramatic turd, is actually not for laughs, which goes to show how aware Shanley is of his work.

Sadly, Hoffman isn’t good. His performance shows off his ability–Shanley’s even got him making voices–but the role’s faulty.

Amy Adams is actually pretty darn good, but watching her act opposite Streep and Hoffman… it’s watching a personality (Amy Adams as a naive nun) against actual craftspersons. A trailer for one of Adams’s upcoming pictures played before Doubt and the biggest difference were the vows and the outfit.

Viola Davis has one major scene and is fantastic. Streep’s quiet for most of the scene too, which allows for comparison between the two–Davis wins.

Until that absurdist, goofy last moment, Doubt isn’t terrible. Streep and Adams pull it through–and Hoffman’s fine for the first half, until he’s all of a sudden got to play a real person (something Shanley apparently refuses to write). Alice Drummond’s got a thanklessly small role and she’s awesome. Howard Shore’s music and Roger Deakins’s photography are both excellent.

So where does it go wrong? With Shanley. I’ve never seen someone more ignorant of his or her own work.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Patrick Shanley; screenplay by Shanley, based on his play; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Howard Shore; production designer, David Gropman; produced by Scott Rudin and Mark Roybal; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Meryl Streep (Sister Aloysius), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Father Flynn), Amy Adams (Sister James), Viola Davis (Mrs. Miller), Joseph Foster (Donald Miller), Alice Drummond (Sister Veronica), Audrie Neenan (Sister Raymond), Susan Blommaert (Mrs. Carson), Carrie Preston (Christine Hurley) and John Costelloe (Warren Hurley).


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