Tag Archives: Jessica Lange

Tootsie (1982, Sydney Pollack)

Tootsie opens with Dustin Hoffman giving acting classes. He’s a failed New York actor–but a well-employed waiter–who must be giving these classes on spec. It seems like Hoffman being a beloved acting teacher might end up having something to do with the plot of Tootsie, which has Hoffman pretending to be a female actor in order to get a part, but it doesn’t. Save a throwaway scene where he’s helping love interest Jessica Lange work on her part.

The film, with its two (credited) screenwriters and two story concocters (though Larry Gelbart is both), is a narrative mess. Teri Garr, as Hoffman’s student and good friend, disappears somewhere in the second act, once Lange gets more to do. Bill Murray (in an uncredited, main supporting role) at least provides some continuity, which not even director Pollack (who also acts as Hoffman’s agent) gets to do. The conclusion of the movie is this swirl of contrivances, all forcefully introduced earlier in the picture, and no one who should be there for it has a scene. Tootsie just ignores the previous couple hours to get the coda to work.

And it does. Tootsie does, despite all the narrative problems and missed opportunities and dropped characters, come through for the finish. It helps having Owen Roizman’s photography, it helps being shot in New York City, it needs stars Hoffman and Lange. No matter what story problems, Tootsie never fails its actors. Even with it’s Pollack–Tootsie, the film, never fails Pollack, the actor, even if Pollack, the director, doesn’t quite have the film under control. Pollack’s got a great rant towards the end.

I’ll start from the bottom of the cast and work up just because I’m not really sure what I’m going to say about Hoffman yet.

George Gaynes is hilarious as this lech actor on the soap opera where Hoffman gets his job (as a woman). Gaynes just has to be a believable buffoon, but he does it with such ease, he calms Tootsie a bit. It never seems too extreme just because Gaynes’s so sturdy. He tempers it, along with Dabney Coleman. Coleman’s the jerk director of the soap. He’s also dating Lange. He also doesn’t have a big enough part in the story during the second half. Coleman’s still good though. He’s got the right energy–and right buffoonery–to keep it going.

Charles Durning is about the only actor who doesn’t get anything to do overall. He gets a lot to do in the story, he’s just poorly written. He’s Lange’s dad, who gets a crush on Hoffman when Hoffman’s “in character” as the female actor. It’s a sitcom foil, which wastes Durning; there’s also some continuity issues regarding Durning’s supportive dad when Lange’s character is initially introduced as an alcoholic because of being an orphan? Maybe I missed some exposition, but I was paying attention.

Murray’s good. He’s dry, he’s funny, he’s Hoffman’s conscience if Hoffman had a somewhat disinterested, bemused conscience. He’s present through most of the film, though, which is important. Most other characters just evaporate when the story doesn’t need them. Tootsie keeps Murray around even when it doesn’t.

Now, Teri Garr. She’s great. She also gets one good scene and it’s after the movie’s been ignoring her for an hour. It’s not a great part, either. She’s such a function in the script, she and Hoffman’s subplot literally kicks off just because his particular lie to her. Any other lie and it would’ve been fine. But her great scene is great. It’s a shame she’s not around more.

The same sort of goes for Jessica Lange, who shares the same space in the film as Garr, at least until Garr leaves. Then Lange gets to be around and sometimes she gets stuff to do, sometimes she just gets to sit around. Lange’s best acting moments are far superior to the script’s moments for her as an actor. Pollack works on directing Lange more than anyone else in the film.

Including Hoffman, who Pollack sort of lets do his own thing, to great success. Hoffman’s performance, as an example of comedy Method acting, is outstanding. There’s not much of a role past the MacGuffin–Pollack relies way too heavily on montages after a certain point, including a completely nonsensical one–but it’s an outstanding performance. The film positions Hoffman front and center, then transforms him into his new role–an actor playing this female actor–on screen. It’s awesome. It also is nowhere near enough to fix the script problems because Tootsie’s a fairly shallow movie overall.

And it shouldn’t be. There’s so much potential, not just for Hoffman, but for everyone in the cast. Lange, Garr, Murray, Coleman… okay, not Durning, but everyone else and a lot with them. And maybe even Durning if the film remembered Lange’s alcoholism subplot instead of forgetting it immediately.

Tootsie’s all right. It should be better, it could’ve been a lot worse. It’s well made, has a nice pace, has a nice Dave Grusin score–and a nice original song from Stephen Bishop–and some phenomenal acting. Hoffman and Lange are excellent and Garr ought to be. She just doesn’t have enough material. Because Tootsie’s a tad thin.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sydney Pollack; screenplay by Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal, based on a story by Don McGuire and Gelbart; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Peter S. Larkin; produced by Pollack and Dick Richards; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Dustin Hoffman (Michael Dorsey), Jessica Lange (Julie Nichols), Teri Garr (Sandy Lester), Bill Murray (Jeff Slater), Dabney Coleman (Ron Carlisle), Sydney Pollack (George Fields), George Gaynes (John Van Horn), Doris Belack (Rita Marshall), and Charles Durning (Les Nichols).


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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 Postman Always Rings Twice (1981, Bob Rafelson)

I’d heard–read, actually, but maybe heard as well–the 1981 Postman Always Rings Twice was terrible. If I knew Rafelson directed it, I’d forgotten. I did remember David Mamet wrote it. For some reason, I always thought it was an in name only remake, not at all based on the Cain novel.

The film opens with a loud title sequence. It’s the titles themselves, the font. It’s puffed-up. Only when the headlights enter the black (the titles are white text on black) do the titles start to imply there might be something going on, in terms of good filmmaking. Michael Small’s music, which I’ll get around to describing as disastrous in a little while, is good during the opening titles. Then Nicholson appears, a hitchhiker finding a ride.

The next sequence, which introduces Nicholson, Jessica Lange and her husband, played by John Colicos, is concise. But the film’s problem–Mamet’s script has its problems, but it’s not bad–becomes clear in this scene. Nicholson’s giving a terrible performance. I wouldn’t even describe it as phoning it in, because phoning it in suggests he had the active presence to pick up a telephone and dial it. His performance in The Postman Always Rings Twice is more like someone called Nicholson’s assistant, who held the phone to Nicholson’s ear and mouth while he talked. And had to keep waking him up.

Obviously, Nicholson and Rafelson were the permanent parts of this package, but Nicholson’s presence is constantly dubious. He looks way too old for the part as written–maybe if it had been written for his age, it’d work better, but Nicholson’s somehow both weary and sharp. Doesn’t work. But none of the clothes don’t fit him either. Sure, he’s supposed to be wearing some guy named Phil’s leftover coveralls, but not even his clothes fit him. It’s like the costume department was expecting someone else to show up for the part and then Nicholson arrived on set.

The shame–the near tragedy–of The Postman Always Rings Twice is Jessica Lange. She’s fantastic. Lange’s got one of those hairstyles, the cover one of the eyes kind, lots of directors use to try to avert the viewer’s attention from the actress’s lack of ability (Nicole Kidman’s career is based on her hair’s performing ability) and for a second I was worried–but then Lange starts giving this wonderful, nuanced, textured performance and it’s clear why everyone recognized her talent so quickly. She’s just wonderful. It’s awful such a fine performance was in such a turkey.

A couple more things. First, the music. Small’s score is okay most of the time, but then the explicit sex scene has this romantic music. It’s like Howard Hanson or something. It’s idiotic, doesn’t fit, and makes the scene funny. Unfortunately, I don’t think the whole project was just a joke Rafelson and Nicholson were playing on everyone (if it were, I imagine they would have put in a Head reference).

Second, the setting. The film’s got a beautiful production values, just wonderful 1930s Great Depression stuff. Gorgeous. Except that skyscraper in the background for a second, but whatever. Except… The Postman Always Rings Twice doesn’t work when they’re trying to add all this realism to it. It’s pulp. Reality concerns need to be… sorry… pulped.

Maybe Mamet, who’d only been writing plays until this film, wanted to break free of the fixed set, but it was a bad idea. Except it was nowhere near as bad an idea as letting Nicholson give this performance.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Rafelson; screenplay by David Mamet, based on the novel by James M. Cain; director of photography, Sven Nykvist; edited by Graeme Clifford; music by Michael Small; production designer, George Jenkins; produced by Charles Mulvehill and Rafelson; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Jack Nicholson (Frank Chambers), Jessica Lange (Cora Papadakis), John Colicos (Nick Papadakis), Michael Lerner (Mr. Katz), John P. Ryan (Kennedy), Anjelica Huston (Madge), William Traylor (Sackett) and Thomas Hill (Barlow).


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King Kong (1976, John Guillermin)

In 2001, the Academy awarded Dino De Laurentiis the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial award. The clips ran from the beginning of his career to the present–I can’t remember if Body of Evidence got a clip–and I kept waiting to see how they’d deal with Kong. The De Laurentiis produced remake is either forgotten or derided, probably most well-known as the background clips at the Universal Studios attraction. When they got to Kong, they used the scene where Kong attacks the elevated train. They used a pan and scan clip. I was mortified, but only because it was stunning the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was going to not only use a pan and scan clip… but pick a mediocre scene to showcase. It was, I suppose, a clip on loan from the Universal Studios attraction.

John Guillermin’s King Kong has one bad sequence. When the island natives kidnap Jessica Lange off the ship, it doesn’t work. It’s not the writing, it’s the visual. Guillermin shoots it wrong (which seems impossible, given the rest of his direction in the film). It just doesn’t work. It seems too hackneyed. Otherwise, Kong‘s filmmaking is impeccable. There’s some iffy composite shots, but also some amazing ones. The editing for the scenes with miniatures is fantastic–whenever it’s a little doll standing in for Lange, the shot cuts about a frame before it’s too much.

The film’s a little strange in its uselessness. It’s not a remake intending to improve on the original or even retell it. This Kong is just a modernization–the whole oil company angle all of a sudden relevant again–and Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s script is deceptively good. There’s some great dialogue in the film, particularly from Jeff Bridges, particularly during his scenes with Lange. The film’s approach to their pseudo-romance is fantastic.

There’s also a bunch of jokes in the script–apparently written to be of the “wink-wink” variety (Semple did script the Adam West Batman movie after all). Except every one of those lines goes to Charles Grodin and Grodin’s playing a jackass oil executive; in other words, all the lines work coming from Grodin, especially given how well he plays the jackass. The character is never likable, but he’s never entirely unlikable either–though he’s always despicable.

The supporting cast is solid–Rene Auberjonois, John Randolph and Ed Lauter especially. Bridges’s assured leading man performance is almost an anomaly in his career. Not many actors can make the giant monkey movie seem real, but Bridges does.

As for Lange, she’s real good. She got a lot of flack for the role–I remember reading somewhere All that Jazz saved her career and she only got that part because she was dating Fosse–but she’s good. She’s playing a narcissistic twit who turns out to have some emotional depth (but not enough to overpower the egoism). Lange’s even got one of the film’s great monologues and she delivers it well.

It’s strange to think of this Kong as having great monologues, but it does have a few. Semple’s a good screenwriter.

Kong‘s a prototype genre event picture, but it’s not a genre picture. It’s pre-genre. Guillermin doesn’t make a single reference to the original and the script only makes a couple, both early on. The sweeping, lush John Barry score frequently saves the picture. It makes scenes work.

But King Kong is sort of lost. It’s a Panavision event picture made before event pictures were released–pan and scan–on VHS to buy. It’d be another twelve years (Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade kicking it off) before event pictures became home video attractions too. Kong is meant to be a theatrical, uncontrolled by remote control, viewing experience. It’s peculiarly paced, deliberate and assured and visually stunning. Even when the composites are bad–it’s inexplicable why they didn’t shoot the final scene, with Kong versus the helicopters, with miniatures–the film still works.

King Kong will never get its due. For whatever reason, derogatory remakes get better notices than respectful ones. But it’s a fine night at the movies (about ten minutes in, I had to kill all the lights to get the experience going fully–with an overseas HD-DVD no less) and it’s great looking.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Guillermin; screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr., based on a screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose and an idea by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace; director of photography, Richard H. Kline; edited by Ralph E. Winters; music by John Barry; production designers, Mario Chiari and Dale Hennesy; produced by Dino De Laurentiis; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Jack Prescott), Charles Grodin (Fred Wilson), Jessica Lange (Dwan), John Randolph (Captain Ross), Rene Auberjonois (Roy Bagley), Julius Harris (Boan), Jack O’Halloran (Joe Perko), Dennis Fimple (Sunfish) and Ed Lauter (Carnahan).


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