Tag Archives: Kathleen Kennedy

The Bridges of Madison County (1995, Clint Eastwood)

The Bridges of Madison County is many things, but it’s definitely an adaptation of a best-selling novel. Thanks to director Eastwood, it’s not a cheap adaptation of a best-selling novel, but it’s still an adaptation. There’s still a frame. No matter how much Eastwood deglamorizes it, no matter how well Richard LaGravenese writes most of it, there’s a lot of narrative ease ways and didactic padding. Not bad didactic padding, vague feminism in fact, but the padding is questionable.

Because here’s what Bridges of Madison County is about. Meryl Streep is an Italian woman who lives in Iowa in 1965. She’s smarter than her husband, her friends, and her neighbors. She’s intellectually ready to debate the human condition yet she has to make sure her husband’s socks are folded right. Because it’s 1965 and it’s not great. Along comes Clint Eastwood, who’s a careful “National Geographic” photographer and it turns out Streep likes the cut of his jib. And vice versa.

Thanks to Streep, Eastwood, LaGravenese, Joel Cox’s editing, Jack N. Green’s photography, and Jeannine Oppewall’s production design, it’s never sensationalized. Instead, it’s a characters study. Streep and Eastwood get to know one another and the audience gets to know them. It’s beautifully acted, it’s thoughtfully written, it’s exquisitely produced. It’s the kind of thing Fellini could have done in the States in 1965 if he’d sold out.

But it’s not a mainstream accessible thing. Yes, maybe enough flyover audiences are willing to go with adulterers not actually being demonic, but the whole thing is a strange sell. Eastwood’s not Robert Redford, Streep’s not Italian. And then Eastwood goes ahead and drains as much sensationalism out of the frame as he possibly can. Again, LaGravenese helps–he’s really good at writing scenes between two people, but he’s not great at confrontational scenes. Eastwood can compensate for it in the flashback with he and Streep. He can’t do anything about there being a mainstream inspirational denouement. Because, thanks to Streep–and, really, not movie stars Annie Corley and Victor Slezak as Streep’s kids in the frame–he’s able to get the movie done without too much damage. But it’s a rough sequence. Just because it’s not someone stunt-casted into the frame doesn’t mean it’s not narratively jarring.

Luckily, Eastwood’s got one final secret weapon to keep the film on track–the music. He and Lennie Niehaus compose this great theme for the film and Eastwood only barely teases it out through the actual film. The end credits, shots of the film’s locations relevant to the Streep and Eastwood scenes, set to the full theme? They devastate. Because some of Bridges of Madison County is Eastwood asking for a pass. He’s asking for indulgence. Give the film that indulgence, it’s got a phenomenal performance from Streep, a fairly great one from Eastwood, and some excellently paced two person scenes.

Of course, Eastwood could’ve done worse with the framing scenes as far as the filmmaking and the acting. Corley and Slezak are great. But they’re entirely pointless. Eastwood, Oppewall, and Green are entranced with the 1965 setting. There’s just no other way to start the film off and still make Streep immediately sympathetic. Eastwood hangs tough with the flashback sequence and its constraints.

The flashback–Streep and Eastwood–is a love letter. The frame is a journal. The journal’s all right… it’s got Streep, but it doesn’t have Eastwood. The third act just goes on too long, all of it in the present. There needed to be a handoff in emotional intensity but Eastwood’s not interested enough. He’s competent and present in the frame; he’s ambitious and feverish in the flashback. He and Streep’s first kiss scene is crazy good. And he works as an actor. Sometimes foolishly he runs into the part. There’s a pleasing hum to the flashback scenes, which Streep probably generates on her own, and as long as Eastwood’s performance is enough with the current, he’s sailing.

It’s enthralling. And then it has to end. To be fair to LaGravenese (and apparently uncredited executive producer Steven Spielberg), Eastwood doesn’t know how to bring it to the end either. He doesn’t want to say goodbye to this fantastic creation of Streep’s either.

Maybe the strangest thing Eastwood manages to do is so fully control the tearjerker aspect of the film. He, Niehaus, Cox, and Streep manage to turn it into a celebratory ugly cry. Sure, there’s still some sense of tragedy, but it’s in a far greater, human sense.

The Bridges of Madison County is mostly great, a tragic Frankenstein. It’s too good at being a big budget economy intellectual romance novel about human connection in the July-October set to just be an adaptation of a best-selling novel.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; screenplay by Richard LaGravenese, based on the novel by Robert James Waller; director of photography, Jack N. Green; edited by Joel Cox; music by Lennie Niehaus; production designer, Jeannine Oppewall; produced by Eastwood and Kathleen Kennedy; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Meryl Streep (Francesca Johnson), Clint Eastwood (Robert Kincaid), Jim Haynie (Richard Johnson), Michelle Benes (Lucy Redfield), Annie Corley (Carolyn Johnson), and Victor Slezak (Michael Johnson).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE "NO, YOU'RE CRYING!" BLOGATHON HOSTED BY DEBBIE OF MOON IN GEMINI.


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E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982, Steven Spielberg)

For E.T., Spielberg takes an incredible approach–every scene has to be iconic, every scene has to create a sense of nostalgia for it. It requires absolute control of the viewer and Spielberg’s only able to accomplish that control thanks to John Williams’s score. Every note in the score–and its corresponding image on screen–is perfect.

As a narrative, E.T. is a complicated proposition. It’s about a highly advanced alien stranded on Earth with no one to rely upon except a kid–Henry Thomas. E.T. must know Thomas isn’t the most able person to help him, but Thomas and his siblings (Robert MacNaughton and Drew Barrymore) are the best choices because of their sincerity. Or so one would think, because Spielberg and writer Melissa Mathison offer very little insight into what E.T. is thinking.

Except beer is good.

But there’s also no perspective on the federal agents investigating the alien landing. Spielberg goes with shots out of a “Twilight Zone” episode but as a way of avoiding the traditional science fiction approach to the story. It’s one of his few highly stylized moves in the film.

Instead of stylization, Spielberg instead relies on that Williams score and Allen Daviau’s moody photography. Daviau makes the suburban setting either mundane and discreet or full of mystery and magic. The magic moments in E.T. are the most difficult but also the most successful.

E.T. is patently unambitious as far as narrative metaphors go; Spielberg smartly eschews symbolism in favor of wonderment.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; written by Melissa Mathison; director of photography, Allen Daviau; edited by Carol Littleton; music by John Williams; production designer, James D. Bissell; produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Spielberg; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Henry Thomas (Elliott), Robert MacNaughton (Michael), Drew Barrymore (Gertie), Dee Wallace (Mary), K.C. Martel (Greg), Sean Frye (Steve), C. Thomas Howell (Tyler) and Peter Coyote (Keys).


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The Money Pit (1986, Richard Benjamin)

Without any subplots–and a running time, sans end credits, less than ninety minutes–it seems likely The Money Pit had some post-production issues. There are a bunch of recognizable character actors–Josh Mostel, Yakov Smirnoff, Joe Mantegna–who show up for a scene or two then disappear. Still, Money Pit is a great example of a (possibly) problematic production working out rather well.

Most of the film belongs to Tom Hanks. While Shelley Long’s along (sorry) for the ride, she doesn’t have much to do until the halfway point. She’s the straight woman to Hanks, who gets to do a lot of physical comedy as they watch their house fall down around them. Often in hilarious scenes.

Long does get the film’s single subplot, involving her ex-husband Alexander Godunov. Besides Hanks giving a great comedic performance, Money Pit is singular because of Godunov. He’s perfect as a self-aware egomaniac. Even when he’s loathsome, he’s likable, a feature the film references a little too much.

There are some great lines in David Giler’s script, though they eventually give way to all physical comedy. Director Benjamin handles both perfectly fine, but he and cinematographer Gordon Willis really excel at the latter. Sadly, editor Jacqueline Cambas besmirches the otherwise fine work of the crew. From the first few scenes, it’s clear Cambas can’t cut a scene well.

The Money Pit sometimes stumbles, but when it’s funny, it’s exceedingly funny. And it’s got an excellent resolution sequence at the finish.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Benjamin; written by David Giler; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by Jacqueline Cambas; music by Michel Colombier; production designer, Patrizia von Brandenstein; produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Art Levinson; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Tom Hanks (Walter Fielding Jr.), Shelley Long (Anna Crowley), Alexander Godunov (Max Beissart, the Maestro), Maureen Stapleton (Estelle), Joe Mantegna (Art Shirk), Philip Bosco (Curly), Josh Mostel (Jack Schnittman), Yakov Smirnoff (Shatov), Carmine Caridi (Brad Shirk), Tetchie Agbayani (Florinda Fielding) and Douglass Watson (Walter Fielding Sr.).


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Arachnophobia (1990, Frank Marshall)

Is John Goodman doing an impression of Bill Murray from Caddyshack?

Arachnophobia is so all over the place, it wouldn’t be a surprise to find out Frank Marshall directed him along those lines. The movie’s a mix between The Birds and a little Gremlins. Not to mention some proto-Jurassic Park. Unfortunately, Marshall doesn’t bring these elements together cohesively.

The first problem is the tone. It’s supposed to be kind of cute, especially once Trevor Jones’s score gets sappy (and bad), but it’s about a terrible spider infestation.

The second problem is those spiders. There’s a lack of science… and a lack of smarts. The lack of smarts goes so far as to show the protagonist, a doctor (played by a passable Jeff Daniels), doesn’t know what the Richter Scale is called. Those kind of dumb jokes (along with Goodman’s goofy exterminator) make Arachnophobia a chore.

Worse, it’s boring. It goes on and on and on. And once it does get going, Julian Sands comes back. He’s in the prologue, where Mark L. Taylor acts circles around him. But when Sands gets back, there’s no one near as strong as Taylor to make up for his awful acting.

Arachnophobia‘s big problem, besides Marshall’s general inability, is the acting. Mary Carver gives the film’s best performance. Besides Sands, Stuart Pankin gives the worst. Brian McNamara isn’t bad, but Harley Jane Kozak is mediocre. It’s probably the lousy writing of her character.

Still, the pre-CG special effects are absolutely stunning.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Marshall; screenplay by Don Jakoby and Wesley Strick, based on a story by Jakoby and Al Williams; director of photography, Mikael Salomon; edited by Michael Kahn; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, James D. Bissell; produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Richard Vane; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring Jeff Daniels (Dr. Ross Jennings), Harley Jane Kozak (Molly Jennings), John Goodman (Delbert McClintock), Julian Sands (Doctor James Atherton), Stuart Pankin (Sheriff Lloyd Parsons), Brian McNamara (Chris Collins), Mark L. Taylor (Jerry Manley), Henry Jones (Doctor Sam Metcalf), Peter Jason (Henry Beechwood), James Handy (Milton Briggs), Roy Brocksmith (Irv Kendall), Kathy Kinney (Blaire Kendall) and Mary Carver (Margaret Hollins).


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