Tag Archives: John Ritter

Three’s Company, the first unaired pilot (1976, Burt Brinckerhoff)

What a difference a cast makes. It’s hard to determine the real star of the first attempt at “Three’s Company.” It’s either Valerie Curtin or Susanne Zenor, both of whom are–to the best of my recollection–very different from the similar characters on the eventual series.

Curtin has these fantastic one liners from writer Larry Gelbart; she’s able to sell being incredibly witty and self-aware. But she doesn’t do well with her regular lines.

Zenor, the blonde aspiring actress, is strong as what’s actually the straight man. She doesn’t have zingers. She just has to hold it all together.

Eventual regular cast members John Ritter, Norman Fell and Audra Lindley are all here. Ritter’s okay; he plays well off Curtin (really laughing at a couple of her jokes), but Fell and Lindley are awful. Fell’s already obviously embarrassed.

Brinckerhoff’s direction is terrible; Curtin and Zenor make it worthwhile.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Burt Brinckerhoff; written by Larry Gelbart, based on a television show created by Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer; lighting director, Truck Krone; edited by Lou Torino; music by Joe Raposo; produced by Don Van Atta.

Starring John Ritter (David Bell), Valerie Curtin (Jenny), Susanne Zenor (Samantha), Norman Fell (Mr. Roper), Audra Lindley (Mrs. Roper) and Bobbie Mitchell (Zoey).


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Montana (1998, Jennifer Leitzes)

I can sit through almost anything. Within certain limits, but–realistically–anything. If there’s a point, whether it enriches me or if it just gives me the opportunity to crap-mouth it in a post, anything. I have never, ever–and this broad statement covers foreign films, silent films, cartoons–sat through so much of a movie with no idea what the title referred to. I’ll never know what Montana has to do with Montana, unless it filmed in Montana, which–according to IMDb–it did not. Given the film’s terrible screenplay, I’d imagine someone ends up in Montana at the end. I’m curious as to what director Leitzes is doing these days. Much of Montana looks like a really bad play filmed and the first twenty or so minutes appear to be a really bad play filmed. It turns out, Leitzes designs jewelry. She appears to be better at it than she is at directing motion pictures (even if all the rings have sappy text on them).

That comment was out of line. Leitzes is not a terrible director. She’s painfully mediocre.

I find myself very hostile towards Montana, probably because I sat through almost half of it before turning it off. Once it appeared the film was opening up, not solely taking place in two rooms, I gave it a further chance. Oh, what a mistake I made. Mediocre turned to bad ones instead of going good, as I thought they might. Ethan Embry is totally undone by the terrible script; in addition to having lame gangster dialogue (Montana is post-Pulp Fiction derivative muddle of crap), also is terribly, terribly plotted.

I rented the film for a couple reasons. First, the screenwriters adapted the forthcoming Whiteout and I wanted to see–since the comic is good–how they are at writing films. They’re really bad. Second, I watch “The Closer” and Kyra Sedgwick’s the lead. Sedgwick’s terrible in Montana. Don’t know if she was miscast, just giving a bad performance, or if the script is so terrible a good performance would be impossible. Philip Seymour Hoffman is also terrible in this film. Embarrassingly so. When I remembered he won an Oscar recently, it reminded me of the Paul Haggis–will the Academy take away the Million Dollar Baby Oscar for Crash. Stanley Tucci’s really good.

The strange thing about Montana is the cast–Tucci, Hoffman, what are they doing in such a crappy film? 1998, Hoffman was on the rise and Tucci was an established independent film actor. They made respectable films, not this thing.

John Ritter’s really good. Much like Bad Santa, it made me really miss him.

I was actually hopeful, when Montana started. Leitzes has a complicated crane shot at the beginning, I thought she was going to spend the rest of the film aping Welles or something. Who knew she was just going to sit the camera down and shoot bad scenes? Except the one fast-edited scene I saw, so bad it makes Simon West look competent.

Let me make this further comment about Montana: I am embarrassed to admit to the forty minutes I watched. I’m ashamed of myself.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jennifer Leitzes; written by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber; director of photography, Ken Kelsch; edited by Norman Buckley; music by Cliff Eidelman; production designer, Daniel Ross; produced by Sean Cooley, Zane W. Levitt and Mark Yellen; released by Initial Entertainment Group.

Starring Kyra Sedgwick (Claire), Stanley Tucci (Nick), Robin Tunney (Kitty), Robbie Coltrane (The Boss), John Ritter (Dr. Wexler), Ethan Embry (Jimmy), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Duncan) and Mark Boone Junior (Stykes).


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Bad Santa (2003, Terry Zwigoff), the uncut version

Bad Santa confused me a little. I’m not sure why I expected it to be something other than a traditional Hollywood redemption story–maybe because of Terry Zwigoff, maybe because I didn’t know (or didn’t remember from trailers and buzz) it was about Santa robbing malls. After seeing Zwigoff’s Ghost World, I avoided Bad Santa because I figured it’d be bad too. It’s interesting Zwigoff’s a hipster director because it’s got one of the most manipulative scenes I’ve ever seen in Bad Santa (outside of, I suppose, an episode of “All My Children”). He has this really funny scene–I think it’s the one where Tony Cox and Bernie Mac are yelling at each other–then he goes right into a suicide attempt. So, you’re still laughing from the first scene when you’re watching the decidedly unfunny subsequent scene. Once I realized what was happening, I couldn’t believe it. I think I started laughing more, actually, because it was an incredibly silly thing to watch.

However, Billy Bob Thornton ended up pulling the scene around, which is where Bad Santa gets interesting… with the exception of Thornton, John Ritter and Bernie Mac, the acting in Bad Santa is awful. The kid–to whom Thornton becomes a surrogate father–is fine. He’s really good with Thornton (or Thornton’s really good with him), but Zwigoff also has a good way of directing those scenes. Anyway, besides him… the acting is atrocious. Lauren Graham’s useless, Tony Cox is occasionally okay, occasionally terrible and Lauren Tom provides frequent motivation for turning off the film. But Thornton’s amazing. Even though the script is a melodramatic albatross, Thornton pulls the lines off wonderfully. In many ways, it’s a shame his performance was wasted in this film.

Zwigoff’s poor choice of music hurts a lot of the scenes in the second half–there’s one sequence where the music appears to be too loud or something, it’s disconcerting, but a more appropriate volume wouldn’t have made it a better choice–and the film’s definitely at odds with itself. The mix of absurd and real doesn’t work out–mostly the script, but also the direction (and the editing is schizophrenic).

But Thornton’s performance is a marvel and it makes the film. It’s just too bad the film doesn’t make anything for itself.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Terry Zwigoff; written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa; director of photography, Jamie Anderson; edited by Robert Hoffmann; music by David Kitay; production designer, Sharon Seymour; produced by Sarah Aubrey, John Cameron and Bob Weinstein; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Billy Bob Thornton (Willie), Tony Cox (Marcus), Brett Kelly (The Kid), Lauren Graham (Sue), Lauren Tom (Lois), Bernie Mac (Gin), John Ritter (Bob Chipeska) and Ajay Naidu (Hindustani Troublemaker).


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Sling Blade (1996, Billy Bob Thornton), the director’s cut

I’m going to assume Sling Blade was a labor of love for actor/writer/director Billy Bob Thornton (remember how much of a big deal he used to be?), just because it has all the trappings of a labor of love. I watched the newish director’s cut DVD, which runs twenty-two minutes longer than the theatrical version at 148 minutes, and–to be fair to the theatrical cut, which I’m sure was a labor of love too–the film should be about ninety-eight minutes.

I kept thinking of a phrase while watching the film: “poorly executed.” Sling Blade has a lot of poorly executed scenes and sequences. There’s one particularly offending montage that I won’t go into, just in case anyone isn’t familiar with the conclusion. But the film has some beautiful, beautiful moments. Moments where tears came to my eyes (but didn’t escape, I’d be a lot more positive if they’d gotten away). Thornton creates these beautiful relationships–not just his character and the kid, but his character and everyone (except Dwight Yoakam’s character). It’s just when he fills in the moments with a lot of useless talk… a lot of labor of love moments.

Now, I was going to wait to talk about Dwight Yoakam, but I’m afraid I’ll forget the adjective for his acting if I do. Dwight Yoakam is atrocious. For the most part, Sling Blade looks like a “normal” motion picture. Miramax did not pay for it–it is from before Miramax paid for all their films–but it’s shot on 35 millimeter and the print doesn’t change film stocks or any other tell-tale signs… Except Yoakam. I presume Thornton and Yoakam were friends, because there’s no other reason someone would saddle down his or her film with such a crappy performance. Yoakam probably gets off six lines that aren’t cringe-inducing. Atrocious. That’s the right word….

Unfortunately, it’s also the right word to describe the musical score. A score doesn’t necessarily have to weigh down or improve a film, except Thornton relies on the score a few times for his terrible montages. Thornton holds shots too… there’s movement in them, but the shots hold for a long time, maybe even a minute. Hitchcock rarely went over twenty seconds. These lengthy, useless montages, with the terrible music–especially the end, after the character relationships have just produced this beautiful feeling in the viewer–are unspeakable. It’s a travesty.

I haven’t seen Sling Blade since 1996, when it came out in the theater, and I dutifully went and saw my “indie” movie. I read the screenplay previously and the screenplay, I remember, was better. The film doesn’t work, emotionally, for the same reason the Sixth Sense doesn’t work. The story is about this family and the filmmaker forces the story to be about an external force. It’s a loose comparison, but in the end of both, we’re cheated of the emotional impact, left instead with a gimmick–a nice little bow. With a nice pair of editing scissors, though, someone could Sling Blade into something really impressive.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton; director of photography, Barry Markowitz; edited by Hughes Winborne; music by Daniel Lanois; production designer, Clark Hunter; produced by Brandon Rosser and David L. Bushell; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Billy Bob Thornton (Karl Childers), Dwight Yoakam (Doyle Hargraves), J.T. Walsh (Charles Bushman), John Ritter (Vaughan Cunningham), Lucas Black (Frank Wheatley), Natalie Canerday (Linda Wheatley), James Hampton (Jerry Woolridge) and Robert Duvall (Karl’s Father).



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