Tag Archives: Martin Landau

Sliver (1993, Phillip Noyce)

Sliver is a beautiful film. It’s got Vilmos Zsigmond photography, it’s got Phillip Noyce directing, it’s got a great score from Howard Shore–it’s just a bad movie. The story has two things going on. First is Sharon Stone’s recent divorcee moving into a high rise apartment building where she discovers there have been a bunch of suspicious deaths.

Now, if you remember that detail you’ll be doing more than the filmmakers do because when it gets to the point in the story where someone talks about the recent deaths in the building and there are only a couple. Sliver forgets about at least three of them, maybe four.

The second thing the film has going on is Stone discovering she’s a voyeur. I’ve got no idea if it’s in the source novel by Ira Levin, but Joe Eszterhas wrote the screenplay for Sliver so there’s got to be something slightly sleazy otherwise they would have presumably hired someone who can write.

Most of the film is Stone being courted by two losers. Tom Berenger’s a creepy writer, William Baldwin’s a creepy video game designer. She has zero chemistry with either of them. Berenger’s a little better just because Baldwin’s indescribably bad.

Sadly, Stone’s really good in most of the non-absurd scenes. Eszterhas and Noyce don’t give her a real story arc; instead, they hope the big thrills are enough. They aren’t.

With the production values and Stone’s performance, Sliver should be better. But not with Baldwin and Berenger.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Noyce; screenplay by Joe Eszterhas, based on the novel by Ira Levin; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce and William Hoy; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Paul Sylbert; produced by Robert Evans; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Sharon Stone (Carly Norris), William Baldwin (Zeke Hawkins), Tom Berenger (Jack Landsford), Polly Walker (Vida Warren), Colleen Camp (Judy Marks), Amanda Foreman (Samantha Moore), Martin Landau (Alex Parsons), CCH Pounder (Lt. Victoria Hendrix), Nina Foch (Evelyn McEvoy), Keene Curtis (Gus Hale) and Nicholas Pryor (Peter Farrell).


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North by Northwest (1959, Alfred Hitchcock)

North by Northwest seems a little like a Technicolor version of an early Hollywood Hitchcock–the regular man combating the bad guys against incredible odds (at an American monument no less), but it’s a lot more.

The film’s a tightly constructed proto-blockbuster; there’s not a bad frame in the film, not an imperfect scene. North moves steadily, its speed sometimes increasing and rarely decreasing. With that barreling pace, it always seemed to be just over ninety minutes. I was shocked to discover it runs over two hours.

It’s hard to imagine the film without Cary Grant, whose comic timing is essential to the picture. There’s one scene where Grant looks at the camera just for a moment and it feels like a throwback to Bringing Up Baby. Hitchcock and writer Ernest Lehman waste no time establishing Grant’s character (beyond a memorable name). The rest, done with Grant and his secretary talking, takes one short scene.

Speaking of Lehman’s script, he gets in a lot of great jokes. Hitchcock just works them into the narrative; its all so grandiose (even before the finish), there’s more than enough room for them.

The filmmakers get away with so much, for instance, one can’t even hold Jessie Royce Landis’s disappearance against them.

She, James Mason, Martin Landau and Eva Marie Saint, they’re all outstanding. It’s Cary Grant’s film, of course, but the supporting cast–can’t forget Leo G. Carroll (who’s dryly hilarious)–make it even better.

North by Northwest is a perfect film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock; written by Ernest Lehman; director of photography, Robert Burks; edited by George Tomasini; music by Bernard Herrmann; production designer, Robert F. Boyle; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Cary Grant (Roger O. Thornhill), Eva Marie Saint (Eve Kendall), James Mason (Phillip Vandamm), Jessie Royce Landis (Clara Thornhill), Leo G. Carroll (The Professor), Josephine Hutchinson (Mrs. Townsend), Philip Ober (Lester Townsend), Martin Landau (Leonard), Adam Williams (Valerian), Edward Platt (Victor Larrabee), Robert Ellenstein (Licht) and John Beradino (Sergeant Emile Klinger).


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Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989, Woody Allen)

Crimes and Misdemeanors is not a particularly nice film. It juxtaposes two men in crisis–Martin Landau’s successful ophthalmologist has a girlfriend (Angelica Huston) who is threatening to tell his wife and Woody Allen’s failing filmmaker is crushing on the producer (Mia Farrow) of the his project. Allen’s only on the project, a biography of his brother-in-law (Alan Alda), because his wife insisted.

Landau’s part of the film deals with deception, guilt, regret and greed. There’s a lot about faith and rejecting religion and how family ties strengthen and slacken over time. Landau is stunning in Crimes, because he’s not likable, but he’s always sympathetic.

Meanwhile, Allen’s always likable. His first scene is opposite his niece (Jenny Nichols) and he truly cares for the kid. His scenes with her, and his sister (Caroline Aaron), are touching.

His part of the film is a light romantic comedy, if one forgets he’s married (though his wife, played by Joanna Gleason, is hideously evil). Allen and Farrow are good together; Alda’s hilarious as an obnoxious television producer.

Landau gets the majority of the run time, but around the final third is mostly Allen’s. Until the last fifteen minutes, where things come together and Allen tells the morale of the story.

He’s being intentionally mean to his characters and not worrying about the audience recognizing it. Allen’s never confrontational about it, however. The ending quietly shows the extent of the meanness.

Crimes is an excellent, thoughtful picture. Allen’s direction is utterly sublime.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Sven Nykvist; edited by Susan E. Morse; production designer, Santo Loquasto; produced by Robert Greenhut; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Martin Landau (Judah Rosenthal), Woody Allen (Cliff Stern), Mia Farrow (Halley Reed), Anjelica Huston (Dolores Paley), Alan Alda (Lester), Jerry Orbach (Jack Rosenthal), Joanna Gleason (Wendy Stern), Claire Bloom (Miriam Rosenthal), Sam Waterston (Ben), Caroline Aaron (Barbara) and Stephanie Roth (Sharon Rosenthal).


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Ed Wood (1994, Tim Burton)

Ed Wood is a biopic of the unsung. The “misfits and dope addicts” of impossibly low budget American filmmaking. The film’s epilogue, following up with the characters, puts the film on the same level as all other big Hollywood biopics. Except this one is about someone who really didn’t do anything (and didn’t even get famous until after his death).

I remember around the time the film came out–I still have fond memories of seeing it at a sneak preview–the screenwriters talked about how difficult it was to turn Plan 9 from Outer Space into the momentous event in Ed Wood’s life it is in the film. Glen or Glenda, for obvious autobiographical reasons, was the better choice, but it wouldn’t have worked as a film (and certainly wouldn’t have gotten Martin Landau an Academy Award, though I doubt anyone was seriously considering the film for awards season at that point). Their solution is an interesting one. After Wood goes from funny to dramatic (the introduction of Patricia Arquette and the death of Landau’s Lugosi), the last act goes back to funny. But in a strange overdrive, best described by Bill Murray in the film–“How do you get all your friends to get baptized just so you can make a monster movie?” It isn’t just the characters in the film, it’s the viewer too. The lunacy has to encompass the viewer to get the picture to end right. And it works beautifully.

The film portrays Wood as a bit of a dope, but also filled with such unbridled, infectious enthusiasm, he can get anyone to do anything. Of a certain age, anyway. One of Wood‘s funniest running jokes involves the older members of the film crew, who are either perplexed by the director’s actions or resignedly amused.

The whole show actually isn’t Johnny Depp, which is kind of surprising, given the enormity of Depp’s presence. He’s so big it’s hard for him to fit in the frame. I remember during one early scene with Mike Starr, I forced myself to notice Depp’s twitching eyebrows. It was the only time during the viewing when I thought about his approach to the character as an actor. The rest of the time I was transfixed.

It’s all about Tim Burton really. Breaking down the dialogue, it’s better than average, but nothing earth-shattering. It’s Burton’s approach to the characters and to the story itself. Watching Ed Wood and thinking about what careful and deliberate steps Burton took in making it… is a little strange. Especially during the third act with the reenactments of the Plan 9 scenes. Burton convinces the viewer to stick around for the guy who made Plan 9, then goes and shows the film in all its awfulness.

The supporting cast–from Sarah Jessica Parker to Max Casella–are all excellent. Parker’s got some of the meatier scenes in the first half with Depp–Arquette’s basically just playing the dream girl, she’s good, but she doesn’t get to do much–and she’s got a wonderful exit. Landau’s Lugosi performance is something to behold… especially given Lugosi was a terrible actor himself, only to be portrayed as beautifully as Landau does. He really does some amazing things with Lugosi, borrowing the film from Burton and Depp.

Somehow, Burton manages to make the film feel good at the end–it must be the silliness–and it’s an exquisite experience. The deft handling of comedy, drama and practically fetishized filmmaking suggests Burton’s capable of great things. It’s just a shame he doesn’t try to attain them anymore.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, based on a book by Rudolph Grey; director of photography, Stefan Czapsky; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Tom Duffield; produced by Denise DeNovi and Burton; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Johnny Depp (Ed Wood), Martin Landau (Bela Lugosi), Sarah Jessica Parker (Dolores Fuller), Patricia Arquette (Kathy O’Hara), Jeffrey Jones (Criswell), G.D. Spradlin (Reverend Lemon), Vincent D’Onofrio (Orson Welles), Bill Murray (Bunny Breckinridge), Mike Starr (Georgie Weiss), Max Casella (Paul Marco), Brent Hinkley (Conrad Brooks), Lisa Marie (Vampira), George ‘The Animal’ Steele (Tor Johnson) and Juliet Landau (Loretta King).


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