Tag Archives: James Cromwell

Star Trek: First Contact (1996, Jonathan Frakes)

First Contact works out well for a number of reasons. The script’s structured beautifully, it’s well-cast, Frakes knows how to direct for both humor and action… but also because it’s not a possessive picture. The film involves time travel, sending the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” crew into the past (but still the future) and introduces James Cromwell and Alfre Woodard as locals. In the third act, I realized they’re the only ones with anything at stake. The Enterprise crew… well, sure, the franchise could be in jeopardy, but not the actual characters. Frakes and screenwriters Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore obscure that situation quite well.

The film also gives Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner a lot to do. After some lengthy exposition at the open, the script splits into three parts–Stewart and Woodard on the Enterprise, Spiner and villain Alice Krige on the Enterprise, Frakes and Cromwell on Earth. It might even be fun to sit down and time how the film handles passing from one subplot to the next. It’s always rather well done, possibly because the pairings are so good.

Frakes–the director–doesn’t give Frakes–the actor–much to do. He just gets to be amused at Cromwell’s fun performance as a drunken, reluctant genius. Meanwhile, even though Stewart’s great, it’s because Woodard’s there to act off him. She’s wonderful. Krige’s good, Spiner’s pretty good.

The special effects are good in space, less so in the action scenes.

Contact is a fine time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Frakes; screenplay by Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore, based on a story by Rick Berman, Braga and Moore and on the television series created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by John W. Wheeler; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Herman F. Zimmerman; produced by Berman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Patrick Stewart (Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Brent Spiner (Data), LeVar Burton (Geordi), Michael Dorn (Worf), Gates McFadden (Beverly), Marina Sirtis (Troi), James Cromwell (Zefram Cochran), Alice Krige (Borg Queen), Neal McDonough (Lt. Hawk), Robert Picardo (Holographic Doctor), Dwight Schultz (Lt. Barclay) and Alfre Woodard (Lily).


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Murder by Death (1976, Robert Moore)

Writer Neil Simon did not adapt Murder by Death from one of his plays, which I’ve always assumed he did. While the film does have a more theatrical structure–a great deal of Death is the cast in one room–the action does follow the characters around and some of their experiences would be impossible without cinematic storytelling.

Simon’s structure for the film, which takes its time not just introducing the characters, but the mystery and all the elements involved, is brilliant. Death‘s a spoof and practically a spoof of a spoof, something Simon plays with in the dialogue. He’s very playful in the dialogue–there’s a great exchange with David Niven, Alec Guinness and Maggie Smith where Smith’s character gets tired of listening to Simon’s banter. And Simon discreetly gets it in. Death isn’t about misdirection, it’s about being so constantly funny the viewer can no longer anticipate gags.

Besides the actors–everyone is outstanding, with Eileen Brennan and James Coco probably being the best. James Cromwell is also really good as Coco’s sidekick. And Peter Sellers as the Charlie Chan stand-in can only get funnier with Peter Falk’s Sam Spade analogue harassing him. It’s hard to list all the funny moments because there are ninety-some minutes of them.

Moore’s direction is ideal. He doesn’t get in the way of the cast or the script. Great Dave Grusin music.

Death is utterly fantastic. It doesn’t even matter the film’s narrative doesn’t work. Simon’s a very funny guy.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Moore; written by Neil Simon; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by John F. Burnett; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Stephen B. Grimes; produced by Ray Stark; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Eileen Brennan (Tess Skeffington), Truman Capote (Lionel Twain), James Coco (Milo Perrier), Peter Falk (Sam Diamond), Alec Guinness (Bensonmum), Elsa Lanchester (Jessica Marbles), David Niven (Dick Charleston), Peter Sellers (Sidney Wang), Maggie Smith (Dora Charleston), Nancy Walker (Yetta, the cook), Estelle Winwood (Nurse Withers), James Cromwell (Marcel) and Richard Narita (Willie Wang).


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The Artist (2011, Michel Hazanavicius)

While The Artist is a silent film about the silent film era, it quickly moves into the talking era. Probably in the first third of the film. Hazanavicius technically engages the transition a little–a dream sequence for protagonist Jean Dujardin–but for the majority of the film, it’s set in the late thirties and still told as a silent. Hazanavicius’s commitment to the constraint produces some great results.

The film juxtaposes the fall of Dujardin’s silent film star and the rise of Bérénice Bejo’s talking star. The two are tied from the beginning, but Hazanavicius isn’t telling a traditional love story. There’s no room for it in his narrative structure–The Artist is often told in summary, the film taking place over twelve years.

This approach focuses all the film’s attention on Dujardin; his performance is magnificent. Even when he’s on screen with other actors, particularly at the beginning, he is the whole film. But Bejo is astoundingly good too. She and Hazanavicius manage to keep her character vital yet never overshadow Dujardin.

Hazanavicius is comfortable with silent film storytelling techniques, though a lot of his composition mixes modern ability with silent sensibilities. He also embraces the sensibility of the cast staying youthful over a decade.

The supporting cast is small, but good. John Goodman and James Cromwell do well. Penelope Ann Miller is excellent.

The Artist excels because of Hazanavicius’s devotion to his constraints, but also because of Bejo and Dujardin. Without them, the film simply wouldn’t work.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius; director of photography, Guillaume Schiffman; edited by Anne-Sophie Bion and Hazanavicius; music by Ludovic Bource; production designer, Laurence Bennett; produced by Thomas Langmann and Emmanuel Montamat; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jean Dujardin (George Valentin), Bérénice Bejo (Peppy Miller), James Cromwell (Clifton), John Goodman (Al Zimmer), Penelope Ann Miller (Doris) and Missi Pyle (Constance).


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Surrogates (2009, Jonathan Mostow)

So they take Bruce Willis and de-age him, but then they put Rosamund Pike in old age make-up? That one doesn’t make much sense.

Surrogates is another modern future concept movie–like iRobot or Minority Report–the future comes crashing down because of the movie star hero, there’s some kind of conspiracy involving the new technology, on and on it goes. Surrogates has a lot of potential, but it’s like Mostow doesn’t get it–they can throw people around and have them break, they can have this extensive chase scenes (robot vs. car), but Mostow only uses such devices sparingly.

The film runs less than ninety minutes and barely has time for one subplot, let alone any texture. The script’s, on a scenic level, okay; the film needed a firmer hand, kind of a mainstream Tati approach (the end reminds of Play Time, visually, for just a moment). Oliver Wood’s fantastic photography helps.

Surrogates doesn’t take any time to delve into the film’s society either–the concept of people piloting beautified versions of themselves around is incredibly interesting, but where are the broken down models people can’t afford to have repaired or the old ones. The logic only works when these robots equate to cars and the American devotion to them. But these aspects aren’t pitfalls, they’re missed opportunities. Instead of making a mainstream Play Time, it’s a Bruce Willis movie. And a short one.

It would have been amazing with Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange, for example.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Mostow; screenplay by Michael Ferris and John Brancato, based on the comic book by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Kevin Stitt; music by Richard Marvin; production designer, Jeff Mann; produced by David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Max Handelman; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Bruce Willis (Tom Greer), Radha Mitchell (Peters), Rosamund Pike (Maggie), Boris Kodjoe (Stone), James Francis Ginty (Canter), James Cromwell (Older Canter), Ving Rhames (the Prophet), Michael Cudlitz (Colonel Brendon) and Jack Noseworthy (Strickland).


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