Tag Archives: Liza Minnelli

Arthur 2: On the Rocks (1988, Bud Yorkin)

With the exception of Jill Eikenberry, all of the cast members from the original return for Arthur 2: On the Rocks. Cynthia Sikes replaces her. Eikenberry’s absence means she’s the only person who doesn’t embarrass herself. I’m sorry, did I say embarrass? I more meant humiliate.

Worse, director Yorkin and screenwriter Andy Breckman don’t just reserve the humiliation for the returning cast… the new cast members (like Kathy Bates, Paul Benedict and Sikes) humiliate themselves too. Watching Arthur 2, seeing actors who gave great performances in what are supposedly the same roles now giving terrible ones–Geraldine Fitzgerald is just awful, ditto for Stephen Elliott. Elliott’s the worse of the two, however.

As for leads Liza Minnelli and Dudley Moore–who were so precious and cute and good in the original–oh, they’re bad. Minnelli’s better, but only because Moore’s debasing himself in this one.

Besides a fifty-three year-old Moore no longer being adorable as an obnoxious drunk in the lead, the problem is the script. Yorkin’s direction is definitely lame, but Breckman’s script is atrocious. He tries to mimic the first film without actually developing the characters. There’s an unclear interim between the two films (it ranges from three to six years, never the actual eight) and it just goes to show how little thought Breckman puts into anything here.

Arthur 2: On the Rocks does have one big distinction–there’s nothing good about it. Even Burt Bacharach’s score is lousy. It’s a dismal, long, unfunny debacle.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bud Yorkin; screenplay by Andy Breckman, based on characters created by Steve Gordon; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Michael Kahn; music by Burt Bacharach; production designer, Gene Callahan; produced by Robert Shapiro; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Dudley Moore (Arthur Bach), Liza Minnelli (Linda Marolla Bach), John Gielgud (Hobson), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Martha Bach), Stephen Elliott (Burt Johnson), Paul Benedict (Fairchild), Cynthia Sikes (Susan Johnson), Kathy Bates (Mrs. Canby), Jack Gilford (Mr. Butterworth), Ted Ross (Bitterman), Barney Martin (Ralph Marolla) and Thomas Barbour (Stanford Bach).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | ARTHUR (1981) / ARTHUR 2: ON THE ROCKS (1987).

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Arthur (1981, Steve Gordon)

Steve Gordon died the year after Arthur came out, so he never made any other films, which is an exceptional tragedy. Arthur is a singular comedy–it’s a mix of laugh-out-loud comedy, romantic comedy, sincere human relationships and genuine character development. The first two are not mutually exclusive, but I’m not even sure Woody Allen’s managed to combine them with the second two (two of Woody’s regular producers, in fact, produced Arthur). Gordon frequently gets affecting hilarious scenes going–usually involving John Gielgud–and the film’s a joy to watch.

For the last third, Gordon takes a hint from Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and sets everything at one location. (Oddly, as Dudley Moore shuffles in–the character’s a complete drunk and Moore’s got some incredible bits with how far he’ll go to protect his alcohol–I thought it’d be interesting if Gordon did the Deeds close, but didn’t even realize he had until I started typing this post up). It’s a good format for the close, but also the only part where Gordon stumbles. He offers the film’s most profound moments, then shies away. Worse, he continues this absurd life-threatening subplot, which kind of worked as a joke in a scene in the middle, but at the end… it had me thinking about framed bellboys instead of the movie itself.

The acting in the film is all excellent. Gielgud’s performance as Moore’s exasperated but loving butler is exceptional. The scenes with him and Moore are all great, just getting better as the film goes along. Moore, as the leading man, is a comic genius–he can make his heel of a character utterly sympathetic from the first moment on film. Also great are Anne De Salvo, Ted Ross and Barney Martin. Strangely–or maybe not–Liza Minnelli’s best scenes are the ones without Moore. She and Moore are good together, but they’re very cute, and when it’s her and Martin or her and Gielgud, the scenes just have a lot more resonance. It’s a romantic comedy, of course she’s got to have scenes with Moore, but the rest of her scenes–even the brief second watching her at work–are when it’s obvious Gordon was really writing the character.

For a while, I thought Arthur was going to be that supreme example I’d compare all other popular comedies against. The way Gordon serves actual human regard with the funny stuff, it’s incredibly rare (because the laughs Gordon goes for are cheap, popular laughs). So, it might not be the ultimate comparison, but it’s still great.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Steve Gordon; director of photography, Fred Schuler; edited by Susan E. Morse; music by Burt Bacharach; production designer, Stephen Hendrickson; produced by Charles H. Joffe; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Dudley Moore (Arthur Bach), Liza Minnelli (Linda Marolla), John Gielgud (Hobson), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Martha Bach), Jill Eikenberry (Susan Johnson), Stephen Elliott (Burt Johnson), Ted Ross (Bitterman), Barney Martin (Ralph Marolla), Thomas Barbour (Stanford Bach) and Anne De Salvo (Gloria).


RELATED


THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | ARTHUR (1981) / ARTHUR 2: ON THE ROCKS (1987).

The Oh in Ohio (2006, Billy Kent)

Short movies–under ninety minutes–are having a creative resurgence of late. I’m thinking primarily of Ed Burns’s Looking for Kitty as the model (and it was well under ninety), but The Oh in Ohio is another fine example. The way the filmmakers keep Ohio short is very interesting. They end the movie during the last five or six minutes of the second act. There is no third act. There’s a lot of suggestion to what might be coming in the third act, even foreshadowing to a pleasantly surprising, comedic ending, but it isn’t in the film. There are a handful of fade-to-black scene transitions and when the last one came, I was not expecting the film to end. It was a deft–a term I’ve only used one other time here on The Stop Button–unexpected narrative move and nothing in The Oh in Ohio prepared me for it.

There’s very little in the way narrative drive–there’s an abject lack of conflict after the first act–and I kept waiting for a crisis needing resolution and one never arrived. In some ways, the film summarizes instead of plays out in scene, but has enough solid scenes going to give the illusion they’re where the most important events are playing out. Or it might not be deft and the screenwriters just got lucky. Either way, it’s interesting because for a narrative to play out in the traditional structure only to stop, canceling its traditional trajectory, raises a lot of questions about where a story should in terms of creating the fullest experience. The Oh in Ohio could have tacked on another fifteen to twenty-five minutes and it would never have ended quite as well. Because romantic comedies–and The Oh in Ohio is a romantic comedy–tend to have their own pattern and they don’t do it for narrative quality but because romantic comedies really only have seventy or eighty minutes worth of story and they need push it so people won’t dismiss them for running under ninety (or ninety-five, ninety-five sounds more respectable still). So The Oh in Ohio shows cutting and closing sooner, on a high point, might be the way to go. I can think of one or two romantic comedies right now with too long endings, where cutting earlier would have worked better.

Other than its narrative innovation (or possible innovation, I’ll check with the patent office), The Oh in Ohio’s got Parker Posey and she’s excellent, but it’s also got a great Paul Rudd performance. Rudd frequently disappoints, but not in this film. Danny DeVito’s good, so is Keith David. Liza Minnelli has a fantastic cameo.

The laugh-out-loud comedy scenes mix well with the not-laugh-out-loud ones and there’s still the traditional narrative going on to hold things together. I also use the word “quirky” sparingly (though, apparently, three times to date), but The Oh in Ohio is a quirky film and I feel like I shouldn’t have had to remember on my own. Someone else should have been talking about it.*

* I have a feeling they were not, because when I went to go to look for DVD reviews, I found four. Apparently, the superstars at HBO Home Video decided to pan and scan the Panavision frame to an HD-friendly 1.85:1, which really bothered me during the scenes when the framing was so obviously off–like when a car drove off frame but was still audible and the scene didn’t cut until it had time to traverse (out of frame, obviously) the rest of the shot.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Billy Kent; screenplay by Adam Wierzbianski, from a story by Sarah Bird, Kent and Wierzbianski; director of photography, Ramsey Nickell; edited by Paul Bertino and Michael R. Miller; music by Bruno Coon; production designer, Martina Buckley; produced by Miranda Bailey, Francey Grace and Amy Salko Robertson; released by Cyan Pictures.

Starring Parker Posey (Priscilla Chase), Danny DeVito (Wayne the Pool Guy), Miranda Bailey (Sherri), Paul Rudd (Jack Chase), Keith David (Coach Popovitch), Tim Russ (Douglas), Mischa Barton (Kristen Taylor), Liza Minnelli (Alyssa Donahue), Robert John Burke (Binky Taylor) and Heather Graham (Justine).


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