Tag Archives: John Ashton

Breaking Away (1979, Peter Yates)

For a “traditional” underdog story, Breaking Away is exceeding complex. It opens with Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley; neither Steve Tesich’s script nor Yates’s direction emphasizes any over another. Actually, Quaid’s loudmouth gets the most emphasis.

Then the film introduces Barbara Barrie and Paul Dooley as Christopher’s parents and it becomes clear Away will be focused around him. Besides Christopher, only Haley gets any time away from the group (though the group occasionally appears independent of Christopher). I haven’t gotten to how Tesich introduces both major challenges in the film well into its second act.

Meanwhile, there’s Yates’s direction, which is focused on the friendship but also the quietness of the town they live in. Cynthia Scheider’s editing and the sound design are major stars in the picture, especially once the bicycle racing gets more important.

But wait, I forgot to mention Dooley and Barrie have a story independent of Christopher. They orbit him and his friends’s arc, occasionally popping in, but Away is more like seven stories in one. Yates and Tesich show glimpses of the secondary ones; if they’d given them all emphasis, it’d probably run seven hours.

All the acting is outstanding, though Stern has the least to do of the primaries. Quaid and Haley have the hardest jobs; Haley’s the better of the two, but both excel. Christopher’s fantastic.

Dooley and Barrie are wonderful.

Hart Bochner’s good. Robyn Douglass’s amazing in a subtly intricate role.

It’s an outstanding film all around.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Peter Yates; written by Steve Tesich; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Cynthia Scheider; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dennis Christopher (Dave Stoller), Dennis Quaid (Mike), Daniel Stern (Cyril), Jackie Earle Haley (Moocher), Barbara Barrie (Evelyn Stoller), Paul Dooley (Ray Stoller), Robyn Douglass (Katherine), Hart Bochner (Rod), Amy Wright (Nancy) and John Ashton (Mike’s Brother).


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King Kong Lives (1986, John Guillermin)

Is calling a redneck hateful redundant? All other problems (acting, script), the biggest problem with King Kong Lives is how unpleasant the film is to watch. With the exception of the good guys (there are three of them), everyone else is a really bad person… it’s incredibly simplistic in its portrayal of cruelty (I doubt the filmmakers even realized it), which makes it a rough viewing.

Getting past a sequel to King Kong being pointless, one has to wonder how a presumably savvy producer like Dino De Laurenttis, who made lots of populist movie hits, ended up setting the film in rural Georgia. Sure, miniatures look all right, but it’s… it’s a terribly stupid idea.

But, is it more stupid than Kong surviving a fall off the World Trade Center with nothing more than a bad heart? Maybe… maybe not.

The acting, both good guys and bad, is often terrible. John Ashton as the army colonel after Kong (the U.S. Army is portrayed as a gang of ignorant, vicious thugs here) is awful. Peter Michael Goetz is lousy as an evil academic. Linda Hamilton is terrible (though she gets better halfway through the film) as Kong’s doctor.

Pretty much, only Brian Kerwin is any good. The guy’s on a soap now, apparently. He deserves far better. He actually makes the frequently absurd dialogue acceptable.

Guillermin’s direction is more than capable here.

Between his composition and Peter Scott’s excellent score, King Kong Lives occasionally (in fifteen second increments) seems all right.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Guillermin; screenplay by Steven Pressfield and Ronald Shusett, based on their story and a character created by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace; director of photography, Alec Mills; edited by Malcolm Cooke; music by John Scott; production designer, Peter Murton; produced by Martha De Laurentiis; released by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group.

Starring Brian Kerwin (Hank Mitchell), Linda Hamilton (Amy Franklin), John Ashton (Lt. Col. R.T. Nevitt), Peter Michael Goetz (Dr. Andrew Ingersoll), Frank Maraden (Dr. Benson Hughes) and Jimmie Ray Weeks (Major Peete).


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Midnight Run (1988, Martin Brest)

Some time in the 1990s, Charles Grodin said in an interview no one wanted him to do a sequel with Robert De Niro, only ones with him and dogs. Midnight Run is one of the last great comedies (though the genre seems to be on the rise again). It’s an ideal motion picture comedy, with Grodin and De Niro working perfectly together. But what’s so striking about the film isn’t so much their developing relationship, but De Niro’s lead role. Run is from De Niro’s choosy period (it’s hard, watching the film, to think he’d ever have a non-choosy period) and, in a lot of ways, it’s his finest work since Raging Bull. De Niro’s character is entirely defined by how he relates to other people–it always occurs to me we never get to see where he lives–and De Niro still turns it into this sweeping, affecting portrayal of an unchangeable man changed.

Of course, De Niro gets a lot of help from the script. The rest of Gallo’s career is so startlingly unspectacular, one has to wonder if any uncredited rewrites were done on Midnight Run (and by whom… though I guess director Brest is a solid suspect). Gallo’s obscenity-laden dialogue comes off, in terms of linguistic somersaults, like a Marx routine. It’s mesmerizing to watch De Niro rant. There’s one particular scene, with him on the phone, surrounded by staring people, vociferating curses–it’s just fantastic. De Niro brings a self-awareness to the character, even though the script gives him a lot to work with. Where Midnight Run stands out is in the intricate ground situation, De Niro’s character is brimming with angst–“silence and rage,” as Grodin puts it at one point–but we never get to it laid out for us. Gradually, as they become closer, De Niro reveals all to Grodin, but never with verbosity–and we already know almost everything he’s telling Grodin anyway. The significance is in his personal revelation.

Grodin’s the solid straight man. It’s a lot like other Grodin performances, except in his genuine empathy, which mixes well with his irksome behavior. It doesn’t astound or anything, but no one else could have played the role.

The supporting cast is remarkable. Yaphet Kotto and John Ashton both create these unparalleled characters (neither are, to my knowledge, remembered for their outstanding work). Ashton makes his dumb bounty hunter both vicious and funny, earning some degree of viewer sympathy; he’s not likable, but he’s endearing. Kotto’s FBI agent in pursuit has great lines, but also develops into this superb human being throughout the picture.

Dennis Farina’s great as the villain. He manages to be hilarious while still being terrifying. Joe Pantoliano’s good in a small, but visible, role. Richard Foronjy and Robert Miranda are funny as two dimwitted, but effective, low-level mobsters.

As for Brest, it’s hard to know what to say about him. His direction is amazing, maybe best exemplified with a hilarious car chase and a harrowing trade-off. The car chase, though fantastic, never seems unrealistic and the trade-off, even though I’ve probably seen the film a dozen times, is always suspenseful. There’s also how he manages the film’s multiple locations as De Niro and Grodin move cross-country without ever losing the visual tone.

I’ve saved the last paragraph for Danny Elfman. Midnight Run is one of his early scores, his fifth or sixth. It might be his best. Midnight Run, from the opening title, clearly has a great, integral score. It’s impossible to think of the film without the score, without this score, from Elfman. It, just like most of the film, is perfect.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Martin Brest; written by George Gallo; director of photography, Donald E. Thorin; edited by Chris Lebenzon, Michael Tronick and Billy Weber; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Angelo P. Graham; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Robert De Niro (Jack Walsh), Charles Grodin (Jonathan Mardukas), Yaphet Kotto (FBI Agent Alonzo Mosely), John Ashton (Marvin Dorfler), Dennis Farina (Jimmy Serrano), Joe Pantoliano (Eddie Moscone), Richard Foronjy (Tony Darvo), Robert Miranda (Joey), Jack Kehoe (Jerry Geisler), Wendy Phillips (Gail), Danielle DuClos (Denise Walsh) and Philip Baker Hall (Sidney).


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Last Resort (1986, Zane Buzby)

Last Resort is not a bad movie in any traditional way. It’s incompetent to the degree I don’t understand–nor can I imagine–how Charles Grodin ended up starring in it. Julie Corman–Roger’s wife–produced the film and, maybe, her attention to detail is why it looks like the film shot in Southern California for most of its scenes (it’s set on a tropical island). The water shots, however, appear to have been shot a public beach somewhere. While I’m far from an expert on judging film stock from bad DVD transfers… it looks like Last Resort shot on video (maybe better than half-inch, maybe not) and then got transferred over to film. It looks identical to an episode of “WKRP”–no knocks to the mighty ‘KRP, but it is a famous shot-on-video example. It’s Charles Grodin… maybe he made some bad investments or needed a new house, but I can’t imagine they were paying much….

And then the rest of the cast is interesting both in placing the movie’s “artistic” movement. It’s from the writers of Revenge of the Nerds, which–I’m fairly sure–shot on film, but the cast isn’t quite as first-rate as Nerds. While it was interesting to see Brenda Bakke again (Bakke disappeared in the mid-1990s, never recognized for her outstanding performance on “American Gothic”), I mostly noticed Mario Van Peebles. Bakke’s barely in it and it is funny to wonder if Clint Eastwood screened Last Resort when considering Van Peebles for Heartbreak Ridge, but Jon Lovitz and Phil Hartman are in it too. Hartman’s got a lousy restrained role, but Lovitz is actually really funny.

When the movie started, the terrible production quality screamed, but it seemed like a really cheap Charles Grodin vehicle. He had some funny lines, some funny Charles Grodin rants, but then they got to the island and the script stopped making any sense at all. It’s an eighty-four minute movie (the last forty move super fast thank goodness) but I was constantly confused. It’s an exceptional example of incoherent storytelling and general terribleness. It’s the kind of thing “USA Up All Night” played when they ran out of money.

But I do think I’ll read Grodin’s autobiography now, because I need to understand this film… how it was made, how someone got a bank to lend someone else money for this film… I’m perplexed. I mean, I couldn’t turn it off–I had to see it to believe it. It’d have been unimaginable otherwise. It’s a unicorn or something.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Zane Buzby; written by Steve Zacharias and Jeff Buhai; directors of photography, Stephen Katz and Alex Nepomniaschy; edited by Gregory Scherick; music by Steve Nelson and Thom Sharp; produced by Julie Corman; released by Concorde.

Starring Charles Grodin (George Lollar), Robin Pearson Rose (Sheila Lollar), John Ashton (Phil Cocoran), Megan Mullally (Jessica Lollar), Christopher Ames (Brad Lollar), Scott Nemes (Bobby Lollar), Mario Van Peebles (Pino), Jon Lovitz (Bartender), Phil Hartman (Jean-Michel), David Mirkin (Walter Ambrose) and Brenda Bakke (Veroneeka).


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