Tag Archives: James Spader

Baby Boom (1987, Charles Shyer)

The first half of Baby Boom is this incredibly efficient story about career woman Diane Keaton deciding she wants to be a mom to a baby she inherits. Is inherit the right word? Probably not, but Keaton’s character can’t figure out how to change a diaper (though she can later milk a cow on the first try) so I’m in fine company. Boyfriend Harold Ramis–in a glorified cameo, which is kind of neat on its own–Harold Ramis being in a glorified cameo–isn’t too interested in settling down and there are so many work problems, what will Keaton do?

Baby Boom, written by director Shyers and Nancy Meyers, sort of implies it wants to answer hard questions about gender expectations and the workplace, but then–with only forty minutes left–Sam Shepard shows up with his snaggletooth and some floppy hair and the world changes. Somewhere in this mix–which has two montage sequences to get out of the boring narrative moments (and they’re actually the second and third montages, there’s one earlier)–the whole Baby part falls away and the Boom comes in.

See, Baby Boom isn’t about Keaton discovering how motherhood fulfills her or even about her relationship with the baby. Twins Kristina Kennedy and Michelle Kennedy do fine, though I really hope they used a doll when Keaton’s comically carrying her around like a suitcase. But the funniest stuff with the baby? It’s when she’s terrorizing Harold Ramis. In his glorified cameo.

James Spader, Sam Wanamaker and Pat Hingle are the business guys who just aren’t sure Keaton can hack it as a career woman. Spader’s a great sleaze but he gets no material here. Hingle’s part’s real thin too. Wanamaker ought to have more (as Keaton’s champion and mentor) but he too gets a weak part. Baby Boom is kind of lazy.

Bill Conti’s smooth jazz score gets annoying pretty fast, with no standouts except maybe the theme and even the end credits ruin it. William A. Fraker’s photography is fine until Keaton gets to Vermont; he does the New York City stuff fine, but Vermont is just too stagy. Shyer’s direction’s indistinct as well. His closeups are weak, the reshoots are obvious. Maybe the coolest part about it is how the second unit shots of New York City don’t do any of the standards. They do come with some annoying Conti music though.

Keaton’s good. The part’s a little too thin not to have a director pushing the film further. And, dang, if Sam Shepard isn’t charming.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Charles Shyer; written by Nancy Meyers and Shyer; director of photography, William A. Fraker; edited by Lynzee Klingman; music by Bill Conti; production designer, Jeffrey Howard; produced by Meyers; released by United Artists.

Starring Diane Keaton (J.C. Wiatt), Sam Shepard (Dr. Jeff Cooper), Harold Ramis (Steven Buchner), Kristina Kennedy & Michelle Kennedy (Elizabeth), Sam Wanamaker (Fritz Curtis), James Spader (Ken Arrenberg) and Pat Hingle (Hughes Larrabee).


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Mannequin (1987, Michael Gottlieb)

When Mannequin is at its best, it makes one forget about its worst. There’s a lot of weak writing–and some strong writing–and director Gottlieb is terrible with actors. What’s so strange about his inability to direct them (most visible with Carole Davis) is how well other performances turn out. Both James Spader and G.W. Bailey are playing, at best, thinly written buffoon roles, but both of them are entirely committed and it leads to some successes.

The film gets off to a rocky start–after a nice animated opening credits sequence–because Gottlieb can’t find his narrative distance. Lead Andrew McCarthy often seems like he’s waiting for some kind of direction, not getting any, then proceeding ahead. Without Gottlieb getting any better, the film gets comfortable pretty soon after Kim Cattrall reappears–she’s McCarthy’s mannequin (who only he can see).

Like Mannequin needs any explanation.

There are a number of montages, which are usually successful thanks to Tim Suhrstedt’s photography and Sylvester Levay’s music. It helps McCarthy and Cattrall are, if not actually having fun, giving the impression of it. The film never finds a tone, which doesn’t help the actors, but they muddle through. Gottlieb seems like he wants it to be realistic, but it’s absurd in concept and his execution.

Estelle Getty also suffers from Gottlieb’s direction, but she’s still likable. Meshach Taylor starts as a caricature but soon becomes a reliable sidekick to McCarthy.

The leads’ chemistry and sincerity–and Levay’s music–carry the picture.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Gottlieb; written by Edward Rugoff and Gottlieb; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Frank E. Jimenez and Richard Halsey; music by Sylvester Levay; production designer, Josan F. Russo; produced by Art Levinson; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Andrew McCarthy (Jonathan Switcher), Kim Cattrall (Emmy), Estelle Getty (Claire Timkin), James Spader (Richards), G.W. Bailey (Felix), Carole Davis (Roxie), Steve Vinovich (B.J. Wert), Christopher Maher (Armand), Phyllis Newman (Emmy’s Mother) and Meshach Taylor (Hollywood Montrose).


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Wolf (1994, Mike Nichols)

Mike Nichols has a very peculiar technique in Wolf. He does these intense close-ups, sometimes zooming into them, sometimes zooming out of them. He fixates on his actors–usually Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer, but all of the actors get at least one intense close-up (except maybe Eileen Atkins). It’s like he’s drawing attention to the unreality of the film medium, which makes sense since there’s a lengthy conversation between Nicholson and Om Puri about mysticism and modern life.

Wolf is a strange monster movie because, even though it’s about Jack Nicholson turning into a werewolf–he gets bitten in the opening titles no less–it’s not a monster movie. For a while it’s a workplace drama, then it’s a marriage drama, finally it’s a romantic drama between Nicholson and Pfeiffer. The film’s present action is extremely limited. It takes place over a week or so (one could probably easily chart out the days), but the filmmakers sell the roller coaster romance between Nicholson and Pfeiffer.

On the topic of those close-ups of Nichols’s, they wouldn’t be possible without Giuseppe Rotunno’s photography. Wolf is a beautiful looking picture; Nichols and Rotunno have these wonderful reflections in the car windows. They’re stunning. And having Ennio Morricone’s score over them–just great.

All the acting’s good. Pfeiffer gets the third act to herself and is fabulous. Nice supporting work from Kate Nelligan, James Spader, Christopher Plummer.

I’m not even sure Wolf’s a horror movie; it’s more a supernatural drama.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mike Nichols; written by Jim Harrison and Wesley Strick; director of photography, Giuseppe Rotunno; edited by Sam O’Steen; music by Ennio Morricone; production designers, Jim Dultz and Bo Welch; produced by Douglas Wick; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jack Nicholson (Will Randall), Michelle Pfeiffer (Laura Alden), James Spader (Stewart Swinton), Kate Nelligan (Charlotte Randall), Richard Jenkins (Detective Bridger), Christopher Plummer (Raymond Alden), Eileen Atkins (Mary), David Hyde Pierce (Roy), Om Puri (Dr. Vijay Alezais), Ron Rifkin (Doctor) and Prunella Scales (Maude).


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Lincoln (2012, Steven Spielberg)

Lincoln is a political thriller. The vast majority of the film concerns the 13th Amendment and Lincoln’s attempts to get it through the House of Representatives. When Lincoln isn’t pursuing this story (or when director Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner’s tangential subplots are too thin), the artifice starts showing. Not even Daniel Day-Lewis, in a phenomenal performance as Lincoln, can survive all of them. He survives most of them, but not when Spielberg brings up the John Williams schmaltz.

At its peaks, Lincoln makes one forget history and be enthralled at watching it unfold. It’s discouraging Spielberg and Kushner didn’t apply this same vigor to the finish. Lincoln is not a biopic; it’s inexplicable why Spielberg felt the need to include the assassination… other than the viewer’s expectation.

He should have left well enough alone, because he fumbles the end. And the second ending. And especially the third.

The film has an all-star cast of recognizable faces if not names. James Spader is the best; he’s allowed the most freedom. Both David Strathairn and Tommy Lee Jones are excellent. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is lost–his role’s useless in actual narrative. Jackie Earle Haley doesn’t do well either. Lee Pace and Peter McRobbie are fantastic as the villains.

Sally Field is Lincoln‘s other big misstep. The other actors, even the lesser performances, transcend their celebrity. Field embraces hers, apparently with Spielberg’s full blessing. It’s a goofy casting choice.

Lincoln is often great, but not consistently. Day-Lewis is, however.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Tony Kushner, based in part on a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin; director of photography, Janusz Kaminski; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Rick Carter; produced by Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (Abraham Lincoln), Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln), David Strathairn (William Seward), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Robert Lincoln), James Spader (W.N. Bilbo), Hal Holbrook (Preston Blair), Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens), John Hawkes (Robert Latham), Jackie Earle Haley (Alexander Stephens), Bruce McGill (Edwin Stanton), Tim Blake Nelson (Richard Schell), Joseph Cross (John Hay), Jared Harris (Ulysses S. Grant), Lee Pace (Fernando Wood), Peter McRobbie (George Pendleton), Gulliver McGrath (Tad Lincoln), Gloria Reuben (Elizabeth Keckley), Jeremy Strong (John Nicolay), Michael Stuhlbarg (George Yeaman), Boris McGiver (Alexander Coffroth), David Costabile (James Ashley), Stephen Spinella (Asa Vintner Litton) and Walton Goggins (Clay Hutchins).


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