Tag Archives: Mary Steenburgen

Back to the Future Part III (1990, Robert Zemeckis)

Apparently, all Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale needed for a Back to the Future sequel was a story. Part III, unlike the second installment, has a lot going on and it’s not all tied into the original’s storyline. Instead, Michael J. Fox finds himself in the Old West, trying to save Christopher Lloyd.

Zemeckis and Gale finally reward Lloyd for his time with a good part in this one. Fox’s story is boring–he’s up against Thomas F. Wilson again (Wilson is utterly fantastic)–but Lloyd’s romancing Mary Steenburgen while playing cowboy. There’s also a nice bit for Lloyd set after the first movie. This entry really makes it clear Zemeckis and Gale don’t know what works in these movies.

They include some more nonsense details, with Fox playing his ancestor. Lea Thompson shows up for a scene or two as Fox’s great-great-grandmother or something… it’s unclear if the filmmakers mean to imply the family tree has crossed branches. Probably not; Part III, until the awkward ending (it’s an ending to Part II, not this one), is rather genial.

The Dean Cundey photography is great and editors Harry Keramidas and Arthur Schmidt do excellent work, especially on the unbelievably tense finale. Unfortunately, Alan Silvestri’s score is either repetitive or weak. It’s a small quibble in an otherwise excellent production.

There are nice minor performances from Matt Clark and James Tolkan.

While it finishes the series, Part III does show what works in Future sequels–tight writing, inventive setting.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; screenplay by Bob Gale, based on a story by Zemeckis and Gale; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Harry Keramidas and Arthur Schmidt; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Rick Carter; produced by Gale and Neil Canton; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly / Seamus McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown), Mary Steenburgen (Clara Clayton), Thomas F. Wilson (Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen / Biff Tannen), Lea Thompson (Maggie McFly / Lorraine McFly), Elisabeth Shue (Jennifer Parker), Matt Clark (Chester the Bartender), Richard Dysart (Barbwire Salesman), Pat Buttram (Saloon Old Timer), Harry Carey Jr. (Saloon Old Timer), Dub Taylor (Saloon Old Timer), James Tolkan (Marshal James Strickland), Marc McClure (Dave McFly), Wendie Jo Sperber (Linda McFly) and Jeffrey Weissman (George McFly).


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What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993, Lasse Hallström)

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape does something very unscrupulous… it relies on the viewer’s affection for its characters to get away with being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

In terms of narrative honesty, I mean.

Gilbert Grape is, for the majority of its run time, a lyrical character study. Yes, it takes place in a summer and not an average one, but director Hallström goes out of his way to show the extraordinary events in the film as standard in the characters’ lives. Sven Nykvist’s photography, Alan Parker and Björn Isfält’s beautiful score, it all combines to create that lyrical mood.

Then something little happens, thanks to the introduction of Juliette Lewis’s stranded tourist into the lives of locals Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio’s lives.

Then something big happens and it turns out that deus ex machina finish isn’t even necessary, not even a part of it, for Gilbert Grape to work. One has to assume writer Peter Hedges, adapting his own novel, wasn’t willing to streamline for the sake of narrative honesty.

Depp’s strong in the lead, Lewis is good as his love interest. DiCaprio, as Depp’s mentally handicapped brother, is outstanding. But Laura Harrington and Mary Kate Schellhardt are great (though underutilized) as Depp and DiCaprio’s sisters. Darlene Cates is affecting, if a little rocky.

Excellent supporting work from Crispin Glover, Kevin Tighe and Mary Steenburgen.

Regardless of the narrative subterfuge, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is an excellent film. It’s often a wondrous, transcendent experience with some exquisite acting.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lasse Hallström; screenplay by Peter Hedges, based on his novel; director of photography, Sven Nykvist; edited by Andrew Mondshein; music by Alan Parker and Björn Isfält; production designer, Bernt Amadeus Capra; produced by David Matalon, Bertil Ohlsson and Meir Teper; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Johnny Depp (Gilbert Grape), Leonardo DiCaprio (Arnie Grape), Juliette Lewis (Becky), Mary Steenburgen (Betty Carver), Darlene Cates (Bonnie Grape), Laura Harrington (Amy Grape), Mary Kate Schellhardt (Ellen Grape), Kevin Tighe (Ken Carver), John C. Reilly (Tucker Van Dyke), Crispin Glover (Bobby McBurney) and Penelope Branning (Becky’s Grandma).


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Step Brothers (2008, Adam McKay), the unrated version

I guess I feel bad John C. Reilly isn’t taking more… intellectual roles, but they probably don’t pay as well. He’s essentially playing his character from Boogie Nights here, only a little stupider but also a little more self-aware. He’s still great and he’s hilarious, but there is definitely something missing.

But Step Brothers is fantastic. I think I started laughing before the opening titles ended and laughed at the last joke. The wife looked at me like I had a third eyeball as I kept pausing it to wait for my laughter to end.

What’s so great about McKay and Will Ferrell’s script is the intelligence. The jokes aren’t intelligent–that I know Reilly’s running around in a 1997 Return of the Jedi t-shirt is scary, not good–but they way they’re presented, the way the film’s constructed–those are intelligent achievements.

Ferrell and Reilly are about even in the film’s emphasis–neither gets much more screen time than the other–even when one should, when Reilly’s father (Richard Jenkins) abandons him, for instance. Maybe the whole catch of the film is seeing Jenkins, this fantastic character actor, blurt out obscenity after obscenity. It is somehow magical.

The rest of the cast is fantastic–Mary Steenburgen, Kathryn Hahn, especially Adam Scott–and it’s this lowbrow masterpiece. It’s so self-aware, it can’t be anything else.

McKay shot it in Panavision, which is only useful for the opening titles, and makes it feel so… beautifully pretentious.

Pseudo-pretentious.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Adam McKay; screenplay by Will Ferrell and McKay, based on a story by Ferrell, McKay and John C. Reilly; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Brent White; music by Jon Brion; production designer, Clayton Hartley; produced by Jimmy Miller and Judd Apatow; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Will Ferrell (Brennan Huff), John C. Reilly (Dale Doback), Richard Jenkins (Robert Doback), Mary Steenburgen (Nancy Huff), Adam Scott (Derek Huff) and Kathryn Hahn (Alice Huff).


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In the Electric Mist (2008, Bertrand Tavernier)

In the Electric Mist is a perfect example of how not to adapt a novel into a film. The source novel is the sixth novel in a series and the film–in a seemingly bold but utterly misguided move (much of it would be incoherent if I hadn’t once read the novel)–assumes the viewer is going to be familiar with all of the previous novels. There’s absolutely no introduction to the characters who aren’t related to the mystery–the film’s reliance on implying past knowledge is actually pretty cool, because it only relies on someone listening. But there are a bunch of characters who go without any explanation. It’s a film for fans of the novel series, which hurts it.

It’s a shame, because Tommy Lee Jones has a good role here. It allows him to do his more mannered performance, but mix in a little of that pseudo-action hero thing he does. Not a lot of it, but enough someone could cut a teaser trailer with it in there. In the Electric Mist doesn’t seem to be putting itself out there as a franchise starter, but the approach to the adaptation implies otherwise. There’s nothing particularly significant about the events in this picture–Jones meets movie stars, played by Peter Sarsgaard and Kelly Macdonald, and he says he’s familiar with their work… but it’s never touched on. At no time does he seem like someone who goes to the movies a lot or sits back and watches the CW. There’s a bevy of supporting characters–John Goodman’s goateed mobster and Pruitt Taylor Vince as a cop sidekick–who don’t have any real weight. It’s impossible to imagine these characters interacting together off screen.

The film also has an incredibly silly voiceover gimmick. Jones narrates his adventure, in the past tense, simply because the film doesn’t want to have a lengthy run time. Sometimes he narrates transitions, so there don’t have to be scenes. It’s obvious and annoying.

And the mystery isn’t particularly engaging, maybe because it’s really not a mystery the way the film presents it. Jones is having hallucinations of a Civil War general advising him (these sequences are handled terribly) and they move the story more than any thought processes.

Bertrand Tavernier is a fine director. His Panavision framing–I think he went wide so it wouldn’t seem like a TV movie–is excellent. There’s some bad focusing, but otherwise the visuals are solid. Marco Beltrami’s score gets repetitive and annoying pretty quick though.

Jones is good, Goodman’s okay, Vince’s okay. Sarsgaard’s amazing–I’ve seen him before, but never turn in anything like this performance. It’s just fantastic. Macdonald’s good. Ned Beatty’s not good though, which is depressing. James Gammon’s amazing. Mary Steenburgen and Justina Machado are both good–though neither have anything to do and they really ought to. John Sayles shows up for a cameo, essaying the kind of Hollywood director who’d do a Civil War movie. He has a lot of fun.

In the Electric Mist has a bad ending. It’s already got the disadvantage of being narrated by the protagonist, but the end goes and changes the protagonist for a cute fade out. It’s an awful move.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Bernard Tavernier; screenplay by Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski, based on a novel by James Lee Burke; director of photography, Bruno de Keyzer; edited by Larry Madaras and Roberto Silvi; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Merideth Boswell; produced by Frédéric Bourboulon and Michael Fitzgerald; released by Image Entertainment.

Starring Tommy Lee Jones (Dave Robicheaux), John Goodman (Julie ‘Baby Feet’ Balboni), Peter Sarsgaard (Elrod Sykes), Kelly Macdonald (Kelly Drummond), Mary Steenburgen (Bootsie Robicheaux), Justina Machado (Rosie Gomez), Ned Beatty (Twinky LeMoyne), James Gammon (Ben Hebert), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Lou Girard), Levon Helm (General John Bell Hood), Buddy Guy (Sam ‘Hogman’ Patin), Julio Cedillo (Cholo Manelli), Alana Locke (Alafair Robicheaux) and John Sayles (Michael Goldman).