Tag Archives: James Newton Howard

I Am Legend (2007, Francis Lawrence)

There should be laws against remaking terrible Charlton Heston movies worse than the source movie. Though, given I Am Legend plays a little like Christian Scientist propaganda… I doubt Republicans would do it… even if it did give Heston a legacy besides being a heartless liar (Bowling for Columbine). It’s also interesting how the material appeals so much to Republican leading men. First Heston, then Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to get it made, and now Will Smith. It’s odd….

The movie is one of the stupider films–just in terms of suspension of disbelief… it constantly contradicts itself. Obviously, screenwriters Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman are terrible (Goldsman wrote, for example, Batman and Robin among other attacks on filmic decency). But it’s really, really dumb. Almost impossible to describe how stupid. These jokers don’t, apparently, even know what the word ‘legend’ means and misuse it horribly.

Francis Lawrence is an okay director, though. He switches poorly between handheld and not, but he can compose a sequence with a good shock. Bad director of actors, but Will Smith playing a “smart” scientist (who does the stupidest things a protagonist has done in any film I can remember) is kind of hilarious. Like if Rob Schneider played FDR.

Also interesting is how most of the film’s sequences and ideas are lifted from better and much smaller-budgeted films. Warner took Resident Evil, 28 Days Later and the Omega Man screenplay they still owned and rolled it up in to a Will Smith Christmas movie. I can’t say holiday, because I Am Legend is a Christian movie. I’m shocked they didn’t play it up some more, trying to get church groups to go.

But the opening special effects, which every review has commented on, of the abandoned New York City, are excellent. Not as effective or good as Twelve Monkeys or Vanilla Sky, but good. The monsters are terrible CG… there’s a scene in the movie centered around Shrek and the CG in it looked more realistic than the monsters. It’s like they ran out of time, because at a very clear point, the CG effects team also stopped working so hard on the Manhattan backdrop.

But… yeah… if you’ve seen Omega Man and know how atrocious it is… it’s genius compared to this one.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Francis Lawrence; screenplay by Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman, based on a screenplay by John William Corrington and Joyce Hooper Corrington and on a novel by Richard Matheson; director of photography, Andrew Lesnie; edited by Wayne Wahrman; music by James Newton Howard; production designers, David Lazan and Naomi Shohan; produced by Goldsman, David Heyman, James Lassiter, Neal H. Moritz and Erwin Stoff; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Will Smith (Robert Neville), Alice Braga (Anna), Charlie Tahan (Ethan), Salli Richardson (Zoe) and Willow Smith (Marley).


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Collateral (2004, Michael Mann)

I actually had to go do some IMDb research (that bastion of scholarly data) before I started this post, because I had to know if Michael Mann intentionally made a movie starring Tom Cruise, with a reasonable Hollywood budget, and intentionally shot it to look like an episode of “Cops.” And he did. He wanted to make DV look like crap instead of like film. It’s interesting, all the things DV doesn’t work with–acting, for example. It’s particularly noticeable with Jamie Foxx, who doesn’t exactly give a crack performance, but he’s not terrible and there are these things he does with his expression the DV picks up, things film wouldn’t have picked up. Acting tells. Cruise probably has them too, but the DV makes his makeup look like he’s about to turn from Larry Talbot into the Wolf Man (a nickel to whoever gets that particular Pynchon reference). I kept expecting his eyebrows to fall off.

Mann’s handling of DV was far superior in Miami Vice–maybe it was technological, maybe it was understanding what kinds of scenes work in DV. A lot of Collateral is well-written. Probably the first hour and ten minutes, before Jamie Foxx starts to turn into an action hero. There’s some great dialogue at the beginning and a nice romantic scene, which Mann is always good with. But after a while, it ceases to be interesting. The story wraps up in a predictable manner and it’s rather limp.

It’s probably the wrong project for Mann… the characters are enigmatic, which he doesn’t do. His characters may be insane or something, but they’re always the protagonists. The closest thing Collateral has as a protagonist is the viewer–Cruise is the villain, Foxx is the pawn. Mark Ruffalo’s got some good scenes as a cop, but his pursuit of Cruise is ludicrous and hard to take serious (and who thought Ruffalo looked good with slicked back hair and a pierced ear?).

I could list the other ways Collateral fails–the music, specifically the soundtrack choices–but it’s all in the execution. It’s a sixty-five million dollar Hollywood movie… if it weren’t in DV and it had a less experimental director, it might have been a fun, empty suspense picture. But Mann’s use of that crappy DV and the presence of Cruise (in his most ineffectual performance in a while–he’s not bad, he just doesn’t have a character to play) suggests it’s supposed to be something more and it isn’t.

Thank goodness for the Panavision Genesis camera, which is gaining popularity. I never thought I’d see Michael Mann pretending he was making the Blair Witch Project. Worse… at least Blair Witch matched its story and its presentation. Collateral is kind of like… I can’t even think of a belittling simile. It’s embarrassing (not my figurative failure, but Mann’s actual one–especially given how strong the first hour is, when the DV was just a severe irritation).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; written by Stuart Beattie; directors of photography, Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron; edited by Jim Miller and Paul Rubell; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Mann and Julie Richardson; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Vincent), Jamie Foxx (Max), Jada Pinkett Smith (Annie), Mark Ruffalo (Fanning), Peter Berg (Richard Weidner) and Bruce McGill (Pedrosa).


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8 Million Ways to Die (1986, Hal Ashby)

About halfway through 8 Million Ways to Die, I realized–thanks to a boom mike–my twenty year-old laserdisc was open matte, not pan and scan. The widescreen zoomed suddenly made the shots tighter and crisper, regaining Ashby’s usually calmness. I suppose I should have stopped and went back to the beginning to see if it made any difference, but I doubt it. The first forty minutes of 8 Million Ways to Die suffer multiple plagues–summary storytelling, sometimes good but Jeff Bridges’s wife in the movie doesn’t even have a line when she’s on screen it’s all so fast; Alexandra Paul, who’s supposed to be playing a “wuss,” so maybe her crappy performance is intentional; and Rosanna Arquette. At the halfway point, moments after I saw that boom mike (it actually was a mike for Arquette), she changes. Goes from being bad to being good (sometimes great) in the rest of the film.

8 Million Ways to Die is a Chandler-esq “mystery” where the detective forces his way through the case instead of actually detecting anything. It’s solved because the bad guy comes shooting for the detective. But once the film gets going, the problems with the story fall away. Throughout, Jeff Bridges is absolutely amazing. It’s probably his best performance. Watching it, I wanted to rewind and watch him think about what to say next again. Amazing performance. And once Arquette takes off, Bridges is in good company. Supporting suspect slash good guy Randy Brooks is good and has some nice moments, but Andy Garcia’s great as the bad guy. It’s a wild, eccentric performance and Garcia doesn’t do these things anymore. He’s crazy; he’s great.

So Bridges and some Ashby’s real nice stuff in here–the studio the movie away from him but whoever cut it did a nice job fitting the music and sound (some shoddy cuts here and there though, lack of coverage and such)–but the really amazing thing about 8 Million Ways to Die is this five minute scene between Arquette and Bridges when they talk. They have coffee and wash dishes but they mostly talk and very naturalistic and it’s unlike most scenes in every other movie ever made. To say there aren’t scenes like it enough doesn’t go far enough, because seeing it suggests maybe all scenes should be like it. It’s beautiful.

I actually found 8 Million Ways to Die in a box of other unreleased-on-DVD laserdiscs I didn’t know I still had. It’s a shame it’s not out, but I can’t control Lionsgate or whatever likely lousy company owns the rights. But I did lose track of this film somewhere in the last eight or nine years and I really shouldn’t have.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Hal Ashby; screenplay by Oliver Stone and David Lee Henry, from a novel by Lawrence Block; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Robert Lawrence and Stuart H. Pappé; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Michael D. Haller; produced by Stephen J. Roth; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Matthew Scudder), Rosanna Arquette (Sarah), Alexandra Paul (Sunny), Randy Brooks (Chance), Andy Garcia (Angel Maldonado), Lisa Sloan (Linda Scudder), Christa Denton (Laurie Scudder), Vance Valencia (Quintero), Vyto Ruginis (Joe Durkin) and Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister (Nose Guard).


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Falling Down (1993, Joel Schumacher)

When the film started, I sort of marveled at how absurd it was–Joel Schumacher and Michael Douglas making a subversive movie, then I quickly realized Falling Down isn’t subversive… it’s “controversial.” Obviously, Schumacher doesn’t have a controversial bone in his body–and neither does Douglas–so Falling Down gets repetitive and boring before too long. I suppose one can enjoy watching Douglas only hurt bad people in his “everyman” gone psycho role. Everyman is in quotes because I’m sure they used it in the promotional material for the film.

Douglas is terrible, playing Michael Douglas playing a psycho (a really, really stupid one–my fiancée asked if he was mentally ill, before we started the film and I told her no, but watching it, it’s obvious Douglas’s character has the mental processes of a nine-year old. A dumb one). Schumacher’s direction is also pretty bad, both of his actors and just composition-wise. He has this whole LA in orange smug thing going for Falling Down and it makes the film ugly, not realistic.

There are a handful of good things about Falling Down, however–though certainly not the music. I can’t forget the music. The film is, again, supposed to be mainstream gone indie, pre-Miramax, and James Newton Howard contributes the score to a Predator movie, possibly even lifting some of the themes. It’s laughable.

Anyway, good things about the film. I’d like to say Tuesday Weld, but the script runs her in such a dumb direction, I don’t get to say it. However, Robert Duvall’s fantastic. Wonderful in fact. His part is poorly written, but seeing Duvall act in such a big role is still a treat. Barbara Hershey’s also all right, so is Lois Smith (in the film’s second or third worst role). Frederic Forrest is terrible in his role, easily the film’s worst.

The terrible script was written by Ebbe Roe Smith. I’d actually list his other screenwriting credits to let you know what to avoid, but I’ll just assume anyone would avoid Car 54, Where Are You? on his or her own.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Schumacher; written by Ebbe Roe Smith; director of photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Barbara Ling; produced by Arnold Kopelson, Herschel Weingrod and Timothy Harris; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Michael Douglas (D-Fens), Robert Duvall (Prendergast), Barbara Hershey (Beth), Rachel Ticotin (Sandra), Tuesday Weld (Mrs. Prendergast), Frederic Forrest (Surplus Store Owner), Lois Smith (D-Fens’s Mother), Joey Hope Singer (Adele), Ebbe Roe Smith (Guy on Freeway) and Michael Paul Chan (Mr. Lee).


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