Tag Archives: James Mitchell

Futureworld (1976, Richard T. Heffron)

Futureworld ends with a ten minute chase sequence. It feels like thirty. The movie runs 107 boring minutes and I really did think thirty of them were spent on Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner battling evil robots. And not even Danner. Fonda. Just Peter Fonda running around giant underground maintenance rooms.

Fonda and Danner play reporters on special assignment to cover the revamped Delos resort. A few years earlier–in Westworld–all the humanoid robots went crazy and killed guests. Fonda wrote the expose on it. Danner is the TV newswoman who used to work for Fonda and he fired for not being newsy enough. He calls her “Socks.” The film is one long diss to Danner. It gets worse as it goes along; the “Socks” thing takes a while to get introduced and then the script uses it every sixteenth word.

Neither Fonda nor Danner appeared in the first film. The only returning actor is Yul Brynner, who appears more in footage from Westworld than he does in Futureworld footage. Behind the camera, composer Fred Karlin and cinematographer Gene Polito (sharing credit this time with Howard Schwartz) both return. Karlin’s score is godawful. Polito and Schwartz’s photography is adequate. It’s not their fault the movie’s a bore.

Mayo Simon and George Schenck don’t have much of a story. Fonda suspects something is wrong at the reopened resort, Danner doesn’t. Company man Arthur Hill assures them everything is fine. But mad scientist John P. Ryan is actually doing bad things. It’s unclear for a while what the bad things are, but they’re bad in the montage sequences so they must be bad. There are a lot of montage sequences in the first half of Futureworld. It’s scene, montage, scene, montage. It seems budgetary–get to the exposition sequences as fast as possible, skipping any action sequences.

It helps Futureworld (the resort) only shows up in the first third of the movie. It’s a cheesy futuristic bar with holographic chess a year before it got to a galaxy far far away. It’s silly, but not fun. Because Futureworld isn’t any fun. Director Heffron plays it all straight, something Fonda can’t do and Danner seems unclear about.

Fonda is not good. It’s not entirely his fault, his character spends the beginning of the second act devolved into an even more patronizing jackass (to Danner) than before. The situation changes when Stuart Margolin shows up. He knows the dirt on the robots (or something). It’s a terribly paced, poorly written sequence. But Margolin’s at least likable.

Danner’s kind of sympathetic. Not her character, because she doesn’t have on, but Danner. You feel for her being in this movie. Towards the end, you sort of assume Fonda agreed to do it stoned but why did Danner agree. She should’ve fired her agent. Especially since the movie ought to be a relative no-brainer.

Killer future robots instead of killer Western robots.

But there isn’t much robot action in Futureworld; though the script fixates on the possibilities of robot sex in the first act. It’s not really a thing afterwards, even when there’s robot sex. That robot sex features one of the only two robots in the second half of the movie (of consequence).

The script does a lot to increase its efficiency (like taking place entirely underground–or on obvious sets–in the second half). With a better script, better production, better director, better actor (no script was going to make Fonda’s performance better, he’s a miscasting epitome), Futureworld might be able to work.

Instead, it’s a dull attempt at cheap “intellectual sci-fi.” It’s long, goofy, and never professional enough to take seriously. It’s strange Westworld creator Michael Crichton gets zero credit on the film, but reasonable. Who’d want their name on it?

Though, heavy John P. Ryan as a subdued bad guy scientist is at least interesting to watch. The material’s all bad, but Ryan’s a strange enough casting choice seeing how he essays it… it’s mildly diverting. As opposed to Hill, who eventually gets some Danner-esque sympathy. Not as much, but some.

Futureworld’s bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Richard T. Heffron; screenplay by Mayo Simon and George Schenck, based on characters created by Michael Crichton; directors of photography, Howard Schwartz and Gene Polito; edited by James Mitchell; music by Fred Karlin; produced by James T. Aubrey and Paul N. Lazarus III; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Peter Fonda (Chuck Browning), Blythe Danner (Tracy Ballard), Arthur Hill (Duffy), John P. Ryan (Dr. Schneider), Stuart Margolin (Harry), Jim Antonio (Ron Thurlow),and Yul Brynner (The Gunslinger).


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The Great American Beauty Contest (1973, Robert Day)

Trying to figure out where The Great American Beauty Contest stands on the women’s lib movement is a headache. Actually, the whole thing is a little misogynist but not for the obvious reason–not because the titular contest’s participants are being objectified (I doubt director Day could competently objectify anything or anyone), but because it presents all the women as shallow enough to want to be part of such a ruse.

Oh, Stanford Whitmore’s script forgives a couple of them. Tracy Reed is all right because she’s black and she’s doing it to set an example. And Kathrine Baumann’s okay too. She’s just too dumb to be anything but sincere.

But Whitmore successfully demonizes Farrah Fawcett (and not for her terrible performance) and Susan Damante (she’s atrocious too, actually worse than Fawcett) so well… I spent the big reveal hoping neither of them won. Whitmore’s dialogue’s terrible, Day’s a bad director, but together they do manage to get some kind of investment from the viewer.

Maybe it’s because there are some decent elements. Eleanor Parker’s troubled contest organizer has a good arc. Robert Cummings is surprisingly sturdy as her sidekick. Best has to be Louis Jordan, who’s utterly odious and gleefully so. Jordan and Parker make the film worthwhile. Well, as worthwhile as it gets.

Another big problem is Whitmore’s artificial structure. He treats it like a two parter–Fawcett gets the first half’s big story, Damante the second.

Aside from occasional good performances, Beauty’s best as a strange artifact.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Day; written by Stanford Whitmore; director of photography, James Crabe; edited by Frank Capacchione, James Mitchell and Bruce Schoengarth; music by Kenneth Wannberg; produced by Everett Chambers; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Peggy Lowery), Robert Cummings (Dan Carson), Louis Jourdan (Ralph Dupree), JoAnna Cameron (Gloria Rockwell), Farrah Fawcett (T.L. Dawson), Tracy Reed (Pamela Parker), Kathrine Baumann (Melinda Wilson), Susan Damante (Angelique) and Larry Wilcox (Joe Bunch).


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Narrow Margin (1990, Peter Hyams)

Narrow Margin plays like a TV pilot for Gene Hackman as a crusading (but big mouthed) district attorney. There’s not a lot of depth to the characters and Hyams is never able, even with some great Panavision composition throughout, to make it feel cinematic. Maybe it’s the lack of establishing shots.

Most of the film takes place on a train as Hackman tries to protect uncooperative witness Anne Archer from the mob. But Hyams’s plotting is all action oriented. There are only two character moments in the entire picture. One is for James Sikking as a bad guy, as he banters with Hackman. It’s a great scene as far as dialogue; Sikking is excellent in the film. The other character moment is for Archer and she’s awful. She’s slight throughout the whole film, but she fails her monologue. Sadly, Hyams’s direction of the scene–and James Mitchell’s editing of it–is fantastic.

If it weren’t for Archer, the film would probably be a little bit more successful, but not much. It’s a quick and easy (and presumably cheap) thriller and there’s not enough time to make it good. Hyams tries to bring in a cast of suspects on the train, but it’s only a handful of people. Narrow Margin always feels a little too cramped.

Hackman’s good in the film, even though it doesn’t give him much to do.

Hyams’s photography is good, sometimes great; he really seems to like trains.

Great Bruce Broughton score.

Narrow Margin is almost okay.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed and photographed by Peter Hyams; screenplay by Hyams, based on a screenplay by Earl Fenton and a story by Martin Goldsmith and Jack Leonard; edited by James Mitchell; music by Bruce Broughton; production designer, Joel Schiller; produced by Jonathan A. Zimbert; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Gene Hackman (Caulfield), Anne Archer (Carol Hunnicut), James Sikking (Nelson), J.T. Walsh (Michael Tarlow), M. Emmet Walsh (Sgt. Dominick Benti), Susan Hogan (Kathryn Weller), Nigel Bennett (Jack Wootton), J.A. Preston (Martin Larner), Kevin McNulty (James Dahlbeck) and Harris Yulin (Leo Watts).


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Fifty/Fifty (1992, Charles Martin Smith)

Fifty/Fifty is the last film where crap-master screenwriters Dennis Shryack and Michael Butler worked together, though it appears they wrote the script in the mid-eighties. It’s one of their best films, which isn’t difficult, only because the film occasionally batters its viewer with man’s inhumanity to his fellow man (in this film’s case, it’s when the President of the United States sides with the vicious dictator and helps him kill the rebels). The film’s politics are incredibly anti-American, which would have made it interesting if it’d been successful.

It was not.

The script’s a lot at fault, but it’s a Cannon picture, so it’s not like there was a lot of budget behind it, or production values. They cast Robert Hays, who trades on being genial but not particularly likable–he’s still the guy from Airplane! so watching him in scenes with Peter Weller, it kind of works and kind of doesn’t. While the two do make their camaraderie work, Weller acts circles around Hays; it makes things awkward. Hays’s character has a more difficult arc and needs the more nuanced performance.

Charles Martin Smith’s supporting role in the film is better than the majority of his direction–though he gets it during the battle scenes, which makes it somewhat incomprehensible how he doesn’t get the–presumably–easier straight comedy or action scenes. He does a decent job with the actors, especially Ramona Rahman, who has a laughable character at times but is always presented well.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Charles Martin Smith; written by Dennis Shryack and Michael Butler; director of photography, David Connell; edited by James Mitchell; music by Peter Bernstein; production designer, Errol Kelly; produced by Maurice Singer and Raymond Wagner; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Peter Weller (Jake Wyer), Robert Hays (Sam French), Charles Martin Smith (Martin Sprue), Ramona Rahman (Suleta), Kay Tong Lim (Akhantar), Dom Magwili (General Bosavi), Azmil Mustapha (Colonel Kota), Dharma Harun Al-Rashid (Sentul), Os (Jamik), Ursula Martin (Liz Powell) and Sharudeen Tamby (Colonel Seng).


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