Tag Archives: Kevin Kline

The Big Chill (1983, Lawrence Kasdan)

With The Big Chill, Kasdan tries to be profound, heart-warming and cynical. He doesn’t succeed. For a film so much about introspection, Kasdan is surprisingly unaware at the inherent artifice. The film’s cast of characters are–if they’re male–extraordinary. There’s some lip service to the women’s successes (doctor, lawyer) but the men are rich or famous. It leads to some contrivances. If Kasdan and co-writer Barbara Benedeck were more conscious of the artifice, Chill would probably be great.

As it is now, it’s a good film with some great performances, outstanding technical qualities and a lot of boring stretches. A couple of characters are misfires. Kevin Kline’s Southern royalty, besides being a painfully artificial characterization, isn’t believable as a former hippie. And JoBeth Williams is so unlikable, I was confused about her having kids–I assumed, given her heartlessness when talking about them, they were stepchildren.

But there are outstanding performances too. The most surprising ones are Tom Berenger and Meg Tilly. Kasdan and Benedeck don’t give equal time to the cast and Berenger–and William Hurt–are mostly the male leads. The women get far less representation–Mary Kay Place, who’s outstanding, is the closest thing to a female lead.

Glenn Close and Jeff Goldblum are kind of window dressing. Their few scenes together, however, are great.

Kasdan’s composition, aided by John Bailey’s cinematography, is often wondrous. A lot of credit for Chill belongs to Carol Littleton’s nuanced editing.

Chill‘s parts are better than its whole.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan; written by Kasdan and Barbara Benedek; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Carol Littleton; production designer, Ida Random; produced by Michael Shamberg; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Kevin Kline (Harold), Glenn Close (Sarah), JoBeth Williams (Karen), Jeff Goldblum (Michael), Mary Kay Place (Meg), Tom Berenger (Sam), Meg Tilly (Chloe), Don Galloway (Richard) and William Hurt (Nick).


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The January Man (1989, Pat O'Connor)

People hate The January Man, just hate it. It’s famous for being hated, in fact. It’s one of the earliest movies I can remember real bile about. Dune’s another one, but Dune deserves it. The January Man gets a lot of it because it’s from the pen of John Patrick Shanley, that screenwriting whirlwind behind Congo and Moonstruck. Oh, Moonstruck, that Academy Award-winning overrated embarrassment. Going after The January Man so hard–saying it’s unbelievable Shanley wrote this one and that one–provides an excuse… The January Man is about well-written as Moonstruck and it’s about as well as Shanley can write.

I started it with an open mind, I really did. I thought maybe I was wrong about Shanley and I was all set to hurry to watch Moonstruck and queue up John Versus the Volcano. But I wasn’t wrong about Shanley. When I saw Susan Sarandon’s name, I assumed she would be terrible–I was wrong, she’s solidly mediocre. When I saw Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s name, I assumed the same and I was much wronger. And wronger is a word, I thought it might not be. Mastrantonio is excellent in the movie. She gives, easily, the best performance and now I’m thinking about queuing a couple of her movies.

It’s not well-written, the mystery is uninterestingly investigated, and the character melodramas are pat and standard and were tired in 1933. Man in love with his brother’s wife and, oh, what a shock, turns out the bad brother framed the good brother and on and on. When Wallace Beery made these movies, there were at least guns.

It being an incredibly standard exercise, The January Man is actually believably set in New York City and that facet makes–by today’s standards, when Hollywood shoots LA for New York–somewhat unique. It’s a welcome aspect, I suppose.

Kevin Kline’s not particularly good. He has accent in some scenes and in other ones he does not, but he carries the film. He’s particularly bad whenever he and Mastrantonio talk about her being so young (at thirty she’s playing Hollywood twenty-three) and their romance is only made palatable by her performance. Kline’s best when he’s bickering with Danny Aiello (who gets the film’s worst dialogue) and Harvey Keitel (who gets the film’s lamest character… well, him or Sarandon).

Rod Steiger’s not particularly good, but he’s real funny–the movie tries to be a comedy but Shanley wrote it, so it isn’t funny… Alan Rickman has a little bit more fun, with only two really terrible lines, which is quite an achievement in this film. Brian Tarantina has a small role, but he’s good.

The big problem with the film is the present action. It takes place over five days, in which time, Kline–in three nicely directed scenes–learns more about the case he’s been on for twenty hours than the entire NYPD did in a year. It’s convenient. It’s all contrived and all convenient.

But it’s not that terrible.

And, except a handful of bad parts, Marvin Hamlisch’s score is nice.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Pat O’Connor; written by John Patrick Shanley; director of photography, Jerzy Zielinski; edited by Lou Lombardo; music by Marvin Hamlisch; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Norman Jewison and Ezra Swerdlow; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Kevin Kline (Nick Starkey), Susan Sarandon (Christine Starkey), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Bernadette Flynn), Harvey Keitel (Police Comissioner Frank Starkey), Danny Aiello (Captain Vincent Alcoa), Rod Steiger (Mayor Eamon Flynn), Alan Rickman (Ed), Faye Grant (Alison Hawkins), Kenneth Welsh (Roger Culver), Jayne Haynes (Alma), Brian Tarantina (Cone), Bruce MacVittie (Rip) and Bill Cobbs (Detective Reilly).


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The Ice Storm (1997, Ang Lee)

When I was a wee lad, I loved Ang Lee. I loved him only for The Ice Storm, never having seen Sense and Sensibility or his Chinese language films. I avoided Ride With the Devil after the reviews (both professional and from peers) and Hidden Tiger, Crouching Dragon was a truly sleep-inducing experience. I gave up my Lee love after that one, though, and when I came across The Ice Storm on Netflix, I realized I’d forgotten it. I hadn’t forgotten the book, of course, since I started reading Rick Moody about the same time I stopped seeing Ang Lee films. After reading the book, I recognized the differences, but now, watching the movie again, I can’t specifically remember them. The novel is a novel and the film is a film. The Ice Storm is the best example of a great book being adapted into a great film that I can think of….

Maybe what Lee needs is a subject as confining as The Ice Storm. Most of the shots are inside and his work there is amazing. I can’t remember a film where the focus effected me as much as this one. The story moves between 8 characters and–sometimes, not always–Lee uses the focus to signify which character’s POV we’re in. There’s a lot of juxtaposing and rhyming, but the film maintains a lyric sense about it. The music is used in an interesting way, because sometimes it does something, other times it does something similar, but entirely different. Half of the film takes place during the titular ice storm, but the film manages not to de-emphasize the first hour. The pacing makes the second hour feel like a (somewhat longer) third act, which it isn’t.

All of the acting is good, with Jamey Sheridan probably turning in the most unexpectedly excellent performance. Elijah Wood is really good too. But, it’s just such a dreary film, it’s hard enough to experience without talking about. The film–with its sudden exterior shots, just as encroaching and constrictive as its interior ones–is probably drearier than the novel even. There’s maybe five of these exterior shots–wooded path, daytime, but they resonate so strongly. They do work that the written medium cannot do, which is a hell of compliment.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ang Lee; screenplay by James Schamus, based on the novel by Rick Moody; director of photography, Frederick Elmes; edited by Tim Squyres; music by Mychael Danna; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Ted Hope, Schamus and Lee; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Kevin Kline (Ben Hood), Joan Allen (Elena Hood), Sigourney Weaver (Janey Carver), Henry Czerny (George Clair), Tobey Maguire (Paul Hood), Christina Ricci (Wendy Hood), Elijah Wood (Mikey Carver), Adam Hann-Byrd (Sandy Carver), David Krumholtz (Francis Davenport), Jamey Sheridan (Jim Carver) and Katie Holmes (Libbets Casey).


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Dave (1993, Ivan Reitman)

I love scenes where actors eat. There’s a great scene in Dave with Sigourney Weaver eating a sandwich. Great stuff.

It occurred to me, while watching the film, that, while it’s still cute, it’s already a relic and it’s only twelve years old. The idea of a person wanting to be President in order to help other people, to help the less fortunate. It isn’t just that Bush is a nitwit, ass clown, he’s also viciously unkind to the very idea of helping people. At the end of Dave, when the pseudo-Capra moments filled me, altruism filled me and I wanted to be President. The sensation lasted a second or two, which is the longest it’s lasted… probably since the last time I saw Dave, or maybe when I saw Waking the Dead or something. I love how movies about politicians have to be set in the past. Except “The West Wing,” but that’s not a movie and I don’t watch it anymore, anyway.

Then reality caught up. While Kevin Kline is great throughout the film, Gary Ross’s screenplay wastes the first half, barely featuring the best parts of the film: Kline and Weaver’s relationship, Kline and Ving Rhames’ relationship, and Kline and Charles Grodin’s relationship. Wow, do I ever miss Charles Grodin. Watching him again almost made me want to try watching The Heartbreak Kid again, then my senses returned. The whole film is perfectly cast, but the front section is too heavy with Frank Langella’s villain. Langella’s great, but it’s not where the film’s meaty. Dave‘s at its best when Weaver’s around. Her scenes let the audience connect with the incredible situation (so do some of Rhames’, but not as many) and let the film approach real poignancy.

If you can believe a film about an American President who doesn’t like murdering brown people, which, historically speaking, isn’t likely.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ivan Reitman; written by Gary Ross; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Sheldon Kahn; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, J. Michael Riva; produced by Lauren Shuler-Donner and Reitman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Kline (Dave Kovic/Bill Mitchell), Sigourney Weaver (Ellen Mitchell), Frank Langella (Bob Alexander), Kevin Dunn (Alan Reed), Ving Rhames (Duane Stevensen), Ben Kingsley (Vice President Nance), Charles Grodin (Murray Blum), Faith Prince (Alice), Laura Linney (Randi) and Bonnie Hunt (White House Tour Guide).


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