Tag Archives: James Newton Howard

Night and the City (1992, Irwin Winkler)

Night and the City ends on a comic note. Given the film deals with struggling and desperation–with no humor–having a funny line for a finish doesn’t just feel wrong, it invalidates all the work Robert De Niro does in the film. It turns his performance into a comedic one, which it had not been until that final moment.

Not to mention it undoes a bunch of Jessica Lange’s excellent work. She plays his love interest; she has a husband too. City seems complicated but it really isn’t. Richard Price’s script is full of great dialogue and great parts for actors–Cliff Gorman (as Lange’s husband), Alan King and Jack Warden are all excellent–but it doesn’t move very well. Even though Lange painfully explains why she likes De Niro, it’s not convincing. His ne’er-do-well ambulance chasing lawyer turned boxing promotor isn’t an entirely weak character, but he can’t hold up the entire picture.

Director Winkler is a lot of the problem too. The third act is a disaster, but these terrible music montage choices start somewhere in the second half. City never has much of a style–Winkler apes other New York directors–but it does have amazing editing from David Brenner to distinguish it. Not even Brenner can make the music choices work.

With a better director–and De Niro sharing more of the runtime with the supporting cast–City might have been a decent little picture. Instead, the film is an almost competent misfire.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Irwin Winkler; screenplay by Richard Price, based on the novel by Gerald Kersh; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by David Brenner; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Peter S. Larkin; produced by Jane Rosenthal and Winkler; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Robert De Niro (Harry Fabian), Jessica Lange (Helen Nasseros), Cliff Gorman (Phil Nasseros), Alan King (Boom Boom), Jack Warden (Al Grossman), Eli Wallach (Peck), Barry Primus (Tommy Tessler) and Gene Kirkwood (Resnick).


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The Package (1989, Andrew Davis)

If it weren’t for the cast and direction, I’m not sure how The Package would play. The combination of Gene Hackman and Andrew Davis makes the film, which has a bunch of problems, noteworthy. Davis gives the film enough grit and realism to make it seem wholly believable, just so long as one doesn’t think about it much while watching it.

After a couple starts, about thirty minutes in, it becomes clear The Package is an assassination thriller. Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly compelling assassination thriller. Without Hackman holding it together, it’d fail. Even worse, the first two starts promise something far more interesting and unique.

Even the assassination thriller part starts better than it ends. With a slightly different approach, The Package would be a road movie. It’s still basically arranged in that manner–principle supporting characters show up in sequence, not all at once. First it’s Tommy Lee Jones (in a glorified cameo, which is too bad since he and Hackman are great together), then Pam Grier (solid in a thankless role) and finally Dennis Franz (playing a family man variation of his cop standard). Joanna Cassidy shows up between Jones and Grier and sticks around.

Nearly all the supporting cast is excellent, regardless of how much they have to do. Kevin Crowley, Chelcie Ross, Thalmus Rasulala–small roles, great performances (Rasulala doesn’t even get a name).

The only weak performance is John Heard, which hurts me to even type but he’s just bad.

The Package is okay, if problematic.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Davis; written by John Bishop; director of photography, Frank Tidy; edited by Billy Weber and Don Zimmerman; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Michel Levesque; produced by Beverly J. Camhe and Tobie Haggerty; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Gene Hackman (Sgt. Johnny Gallagher), Joanna Cassidy (Eileen Gallagher), Tommy Lee Jones (Thomas Boyette), John Heard (Col. Glen Whitacre), Dennis Franz (Lt. Milan Delich), Pam Grier (Ruth Butler), Kevin Crowley (Walter Henke) and Chelcie Ross (Gen. Hopkins).


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The Fugitive (1993, Andrew Davis)

It’s been a while since I last saw The Fugitive. I remember it didn’t impress me much, particularly Andrew Davis’s direction.

Needless to say, I was very wrong. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated the film as much as I did this viewing. Davis’s direction is the finest action thriller direction I can recall. The film starts a breakneck pace about twenty minutes into the film and doesn’t stop… I don’t even think it stops at the end. The last scene is very quick as well.

The film’s approach to mainstream filmmaking–setting two strong actors opposite each other without making it a buddy picture–has vanished. The Fugitive doesn’t just juxtapose Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, it barely gives Ford any screen time to himself when he’s not on the run. The first twenty minutes… it’s summary storytelling. The audience doesn’t really get to know Ford until after he’s running.

Most of Ford’s scenes are by himself, either running or investigating, so it’s up to Jones. The supporting cast around Jones is a phenomenal piece of casting–Joe Pantoliano doing comic relief, obviously, is going to be good, but Daniel Roebuck has some moments too. Davis manages to give his cast great little moments without ever breaking pace.

Michael Chapman’s photography is an essential element. The film’s color scheme manages to be rich and drab at the same time.

I’m trying to think of something negative or unenthusiastic to say about the film.

I can’t think of anything.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Davis; screenplay by Jeb Stuart and David Twohy, based on a story by Twohy and characters created by Roy Huggins; director of photography, Michael Chapman; edited by Don Brochu, David Finfer, Dean Goodhill, Dov Hoenig, Richard Nord and Dennis Virkler; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, J. Dennis Washington; produced by Arnold Kopelson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Harrison Ford (Dr. Richard Kimble), Tommy Lee Jones (Deputy Samuel Gerard), Sela Ward (Helen Kimble), Jeroen Krabbé (Dr. Charles Nichols), Joe Pantoliano (Agent Cosmo Renfro), Andreas Katsulas (Frederick Sykes), Jane Lynch (Dr. Kathy Wahlund), Julianne Moore (Dr. Anne Eastman), Daniel Roebuck (Agent Robert Biggs), L. Scott Caldwell (Agent Poole), Johnny Lee Davenport (Marshal Henry), Tom Wood (Agent Noah Newman) and Eddie Bo Smith Jr. (Copeland).


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Diggstown (1992, Michael Ritchie)

I forgot MGM still made movies in the 1990s. The aura of bankruptcy and failure has surrounded Leo for so long… it’s distracting. I remember my Diggstown laserdisc sleeve. It’s been at least ten years since I’ve seen the movie. It’s still a great time and I’m left, as I always was when finishing it, perplexed. How did James Woods not have a successful film career as a leading man? Diggstown might have even his last major lead role.

Diggstown has a large cast–figure twenty recognizable cast members–and the casting is brilliant. It might have been the first movie I ever saw Oliver Platt in. The film’s broken up into three parts (not the acts, however). The prison prologue, the set-up, then the long boxing sequence (Louis Gossett Jr. fighting ten guys, which is why the cast is so large). Each section feels different, with Woods owning the prologue, but Platt getting the most attention in the opening of the set-up. It’s a bombastic role and Platt’s perfect for it. There isn’t a bad performance in the entire film (Ritchie’s a fine director of actors), but the acting from Platt, Woods and Gossett is just amazing. Each one of them turn in singular performances–so it’s unfortunate Diggstown doesn’t offer them much more to do.

The film’s funny, endearing and constantly enjoyable, but there’s a certain lack of depth to it. There’s nuance in the film–when Gossett and Woods meet up at the beginning, they’re having an intricately guarded conversation, combining the acting, the direction and the editing. But the nuance doesn’t carry over to the film. It has a simple close. There isn’t much opportunity for a deeper story here, but there’s some (the flirtation between Woods and Heather Graham evaporates as the boxing part of the film begins).

Instead, it’s just a good time, with a great, self-aware performance from Bruce Dern. I’m not always a fan, but when Dern’s on, he’s really on. The supporting cast–John Short, Duane Davis, even Michael DeLorenzo–has some standouts as well.

Diggstown is a well put together film–Ritchie doesn’t have a single unsure directorial moment, every move is confident–and it makes Diggstown one of the finer junior members of the era’s films. Diggstown is a contained, inclusive filmic narrative–the viewer isn’t supposed to engage with Woods as a celebrity, only his performance. There’s even a “Roots” reference and, even if it was supposed to be an in-joke with Gossett, it doesn’t come off as one.

Before I finish up, I need to mention James Newton Howard’s score. The score’s great, really changing pace as the film does–not only does Diggstown have those twenty or so characters for the viewer to remember, it has a lot of locations too–Howard keeps up with everything, developing the score inline with the narrative.

On one hand, I wish Diggstown had a little more depth–the film has room for it, Ritchie and the cast can certainly handle it, but maybe not… It’s a solid, smart, well-made comedy. I remember when I first saw it, on videotape, I couldn’t wait to see what Woods and Platt did next. Platt did well enough, Woods provided a frequent disappointment. Even this time through, sixteen years after it came out, it’s hard not to be excited at the talent on display in the film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Ritchie; screenplay by Steven McKay, based on a novel by Leonard Wise; director of photography, Gerry Fisher; edited by Don Zimmerman; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Stephen Hendrickson; produced by Robert Schaffel; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer.

Starring James Woods (Gabriel Caine), Louis Gossett Jr. (Roy Palmer), Bruce Dern (John Gillon), Oliver Platt (Fitz), Heather Graham (Emily Forrester), Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb (Wolf Forrester), Thomas Wilson Brown (Robby Gillon), Duane Davis (Hambone Busby), David Fresco (Fish) and Willie Green (Hammerhead Hagan).


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