Tag Archives: James Spader

The Watcher (2000, Joe Charbanic)

I do not regret watching The Watcher, which features Keanu Reeves as a serial killer who sees the world like a shitty late nineties video camera. It might not even be a video camera. The shots might just be through a shitty video viewfinder. There’s a lot of… competency on display in the film, but it’s never from director Charbanic. Charbanic’s hilariously incompetent. Well, sort of hilariously. Sometimes the bad goes on too long and gets tiring. The therapy sessions haunted ex-FBI agent James Spader has with Marisa Tomei are always tedious; the writing (from David Elliot and Clay Ayers) is godawful, but Tomei also looks like someone’s pointing a pistol at her dog offscreen to keep her on set. Given how Charbanic doesn’t do establishing shots, there’s sometimes no evidence Spader and Tomei are on set together. Spader can handle it. Tomei cannot.

Because until the last act, when Reeves kidnaps Tomei and Spader, it’s Spader’s movie. It’s about this guy who has moved to Chicago from L.A., on full disability after he ran into a burning house to save his lover (Yvonne Niami). Only then we find out through flashbacks Spader left Miami tied up to go chase Reeves. His lasting damage from the rescue attempt doesn’t always allow him to remember the fire. Tragic.

For more reasons than one. Niami seems awkwardly filmed. Maybe it’s because she’s one of the producers’ wives. The shlock producer. The film has three. Two seem legit, the third—Nile Niami—did a bunch of low budget action crap. The Watcher feels like low budget action crap, but filmed on location. Because even though there’s the interesting behind the scenes story about how Reeves was buds with director Charbanic from when Reeves toured with his crappy band instead of doing Speed 2 and verbally agreed to do this shitty script and then some assistant forged Reeves’s name on an actual contract and Reeves was trapped—even though there’s that story, whatever the deal with the Chicago location shooting is far more compelling. Because they go all out shooting in Chicago. It looks terrible, because Charbanic sucks and Matthew Chapman’s cinematography looks like a syndicated TV cop show and Richard Nord’s editing is atrocious, but whoever coordinated and managed all that location stuff—great job. The CG explosions look like crap, but the real ones look awesome… well, look awesomely executed. They don’t look awesome because the direction’s bad. Though the big explosion shot is one of the better, more approaching competence moments.

They’ve got a gazillion cop cars, they’ve got helicopters flying into the city from over Lake Michigan–the movie goes all out as a Chicago travelogue. At first it seems like it’s some kind of promotional video to shoot in Chicago, then it seems like it’s some crappy action movie just shot in Chicago—like a Chicago investor or something—but apparently it’s something else entirely. Kind of interesting. Far more interesting than the movie. And the Reeves casting intrigue. Because Reeves is just bad. He’s really bad at playing the serial killer. The script’s dumb, Charbanic’s a suck director, but Reeves is still just bad.

Spader… works it. Sometimes you can just pass the time watching Spader figure out how he’s going to essay this crap role. It’s like watching the performance occur to him. It’s not a great performance by any means—the script’s crap, characterization’s crap, part’s crap—but it’s interesting to watch Spader. Less Tomei. Chris Ellis is really good as Spader’s Chicago PD sidekick. Ellis doesn’t have a single acceptably written line but somehow he makes it work. He’s very enthusiastic. Like somehow he’d convinced himself The Watcher was going to be the next Matrix. It has Keanu Reeves in a leather jacket all the time after all.

Marco Beltrami’s score isn’t good—Nord’s cutting for music, Beltrami or the light metal soundtrack selections is terrible—but Beltrami works it too. He’s got some good technique, but there’s no way the final product is going to come across.

The Watcher’s atrocious. You shouldn’t watch it.

Though, if you’re interested in the Chicago area and seeing an expansively but poorly shot film showcasing it… you probably can’t do better than The Watcher? But also don’t watch it. It’s terrible.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Charbanic; screenplay by David Elliot and Clay Ayers, based on a story by Darcy Meyers and Elliot; director of photography, Michael Chapman; edited by Richard Nord; music by Marco Beltrami; production designers, Maria Caso and Brian Eatwell; produced by Christopher Eberts, Elliott Lewitt, Nile Niami, and Jeff Rice; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring James Spader (Joel), Keanu Reeves (David), Marisa Tomei (Polly), Chris Ellis (Hollis), and Ernie Hudson (Mike).


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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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