Tag Archives: Marcia Strassman

Brenda Starr (1976, Mel Stuart)

It’d be nice if there were anything good about Brenda Starr. Stuart’s direction is–at its best–mediocre. It’s always predictable, it’s sometimes bad. He has familiar patterns–over the shoulder, close-up, walking two shot. He repeats them, every time with a bad cut from James T. Heckert and Melvin Shapiro. Sometimes the sound doesn’t match, always when cutting to one of Stuart’s awkwardly framed one-shots of lead Jill St. John. They’re hard to explain–St. John doesn’t get close-ups the same way the other actors in the scene do, instead something like a medium shot with empty space around her. St. John doesn’t do anything with that space; she just delivers her poorly written dialogue like everyone else.

George Kirgo’s teleplay has St. John’s Brenda Starr a headstrong reporter who runs into dangerous situations then waits around for one of the guys to save her. One of the guys is cheesy TV news anchor Jed Allan. He’s in love with St. John–or at least a very intense lust–but she’s still waiting for her mysterious Basil to return. Basil’s not a character in the movie, rather the source comic strip. He gets a “cameo” here in a framed picture, but he’s a MacGuffin. Not sure why Kirgo thought Allan’s news anchor would be a better rescuer for St. John. Other than if her lost love returned, St. John might have to have some character stuff. She gets none. It’s a TV pilot where the title character has no character setup–other than she’s waiting for her mystery man but is willing to mock seduce for news scoops. The rest of the cast doesn’t really get any character depth either, but… if the thing’s called Brenda Starr, shouldn’t it be about her? Or at least, shouldn’t she be doing things?

Because St. John works entirely at the behest of editor Sorrell Booke. He’s apparently supposed to be a lovable boss, but Booke can barely get out Kirgo’s attempts at comic strip dialogue–he writes banter like it’s a middle school skit–and the rest of the time he’s just chastising St. John for not scooping Allan on a story. Except it’s immediately after St. John tries to give Booke a story, he refuses, then Allan scoops them. Maybe if St. John and Booke had an ounce of chemistry–or better dialogue or better direction or better production values–it might be better.

But it’s not. It’s bad.

St. John’s investigating odious rich guy Victor Buono. He’s sick and in L.A. getting treatment. Eventually, St. John’s investigation takes her to Brazil. There she meets cute rich Brazilian guy Joel Fabiani. He takes her out to dinner, where he gets further along than Allan, which is fine–Fabiani at least gives a likable performance. Not even St. John manages to be likable throughout. She’s never unlikable, but she also never gets any sympathy for her participation. She never rises above the material. Someone needs to rise about this material. Anyone.

No one does. In fact, some people get worse as it goes along.

The Brazil stuff looks like it was shot either in California or a sound stage. There’s this really bad action sequence on a river where at one point it looks like they’re in a stream not two feet deep. Production values aren’t good on Brenda Starr; Stuart doesn’t have any tricks up his sleeves to compensate either. It starts charmless, it ends charmless. In between there’s some bad acting, some mediocre acting, some bad lines, some oogling of St. John (the first act has most of it), and some lousy editing.

There’s even weak Lalo Schifrin music, which is maybe the saddest part. He’s hacking out a personality-free TV score.

The biggest compliment for Brenda Starr is Buono’s performance is nowhere near as bad as his first scene suggests it will be.

All together, sure, the script’s bad, but Stuart’s direction doesn’t get anything out of the actors, not even when they’re obviously better than the material. Maybe if Stuart were excited about the material? Like if he really embraced the crappy attempts at comic strip banter only on TV? But he doesn’t. He’s bored by it. Rightly so, sure, but he should be able to pretend.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mel Stuart; teleplay by George Kirgo, based on a story by Kirgo and Ira Barmak and the comic strip by Dale Messick; director of photography, Ted Voigtlander; edited by James T. Heckert and Melvin Shapiro; music by Lalo Schifrin; produced by Bob Larson; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Jill St. John (Brenda Starr), Jed Allan (Roger Randall), Sorrell Booke (A.J. Livwright), Victor Buono (Lance O’Toole), Joel Fabiani (Carlos Vegas), BarBara Luna (Luisa Santamaria), Marcia Strassman (Kentucky Smith), Arthur Roberts (Dax Leander), and Tabi Cooper (Hank O’Hare).


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Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989, Joe Johnston)

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is a constant battle between trite and sincere. Except the special effects stuff; the special effects are astounding, especially the sequences where there's a mix of styles, between practical and optical, and a mix of sizes. Director Johnston does such an exceptional job making the fantastic palatable, it's too bad the script isn't less banal when it comes to the character work.

Oddly, some of the character stuff is great. The relationship between the kids–Thomas Wilson Brown and Amy O'Neill are the teens, Jared Rushton and Robert Oliveri are their annoying little brothers–develops wonderfully once they're in crisis and have shared traumatic experiences. Brown, O'Neill and Rushton all give outstanding performances. Oliveri oscillates between grating and sympathetic. Unfortunately, the script decides to encourage the grating, which is one of Shrunk's many third act problems.

Then there are the adults. Rick Moranis phones it in as the scientist dad of O'Neill and Oliveri, Marcia Strassman is effective as his suffering wife. Matt Frewer and Kristine Sutherland play Brown and Rushton's parents. Sutherland's great. Frewer's likable; he gets an actual character arc.

Screenwriters Ed Naha and Tom Schulman bring a tone-deafness not just to how kids interact with their parents, but also how Strassman deals with Moranis. Makes one wonder if a script doctor handled the miniaturized kids versus the great outdoors while bonding. Not to mention the nice romance.

Regardless of the bad finish, Shrunk's beautifully made and does have some very good stuff in it.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Johnston; screenplay by Ed Naha and Tom Schulman, based on a story by Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna and Naha; director of photography, Hiro Narita; edited by Michael A. Stevenson; music by James Horner; production designer, Gregg Fonseca; produced by Penney Finkelman Cox; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Thomas Wilson Brown (Little Russ Thompson), Amy O’Neill (Amy Szalinski), Robert Oliveri (Nick Szalinski), Jared Rushton (Ron Thompson)Rick Moranis (Wayne Szalinski), Marcia Strassman (Diane Szalinski), Kristine Sutherland (Mae Thompson) and Matt Frewer (Big Russ Thompson).


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