Tag Archives: Matt Clark

Return to Oz (1985, Walter Murch)

Return to Oz has gumption. It’s got confidence and professionalism too, but its gumption is something different. Director Murch is making it work with what he’s got—a scale limited by budget and reality—because he’s sure of the project. Gumption.

He knows he’s got the right lead—eleven year-old Fairuza Balk as Dorothy. He knows the special effects he’s going to rely on are going to be impressive, whether the grand claymation as stop motion finale, the various mechanical aspects of the suits (Return raises the question of whether it’s people in costumes or people in suits), the talking chicken as second lead for the beginning of the second act, all of it. Except the street gang villains, who have wheels attached to their hands and feet. The effects are fine because they’re doing it and the design of the outfits is… inventive, but they’re still nerdy white guy street gang villains from the eighties. It’s campy—eighties camp. And Return’s never campy.

Also impressive are the voice performances. Denise Bryer as the chicken, Sean Barrett as the steampunk robot, Brian Henson as the effects-heavier Scarecrow-stand in, Jack Pumpkinhead. Murch knows how to time the effects shots to get the later effect. Return is beautifully edited; director Murch cut his teeth editing before directing it and the film editor Leslie Hodgson has some wonderful cuts. The film’s technically strong. It’s principal cast is good. Balk’s great. So what’s the problem. Besides the budget and effects only being able to do so much? It doesn’t have a good ending. It’s way too small. While the film isn’t a sequel to The Wizard of Oz: The Movie, it does acknowledge that film’s legacy. Return is grittier, late nineteenth century Kansas far less idealized, Balk is a tween in definite danger, there is a villain who takes off their head, and there’s electro-shock therapy. And there’s Piper Laurie as Aunt Em, which is an interesting casting decision and maybe not the best one. Laurie’s playing a literal “Piper Laurie mom-type” to the point I wondered who they got who looked so much like Piper Laurie. Because I assumed Laurie would be able to handle the accent and she’s not. It’s not good. It’s a missed opportunity. Same goes for Uncle Owen (sorry, Uncle Henry) Matt Clark. Missed opportunity. Clark’s fine, but he’s got no added value presence. Return is a perfect franchise starter thirty years too soon; Murch is too busy focusing on how they’re going to realize the magic to worry about the supporting performances. Same goes for Jean Marsh as the bad witch. She’s got no charm, no energy.

On the other hand, Nicol Williamson is amazing as the villain. Like, Murch gets it with Williamson, because he’s voicing the villain; the visual villain is an effects sequence and Murch knows he’s got to sell that effects sequence. So Williamson’s performance matters. Again, bigger budget, more time, it’d probably have been fine. But Return is very much a victim of reality. Besides the budget, there’s the weight of the de facto sequel, there’s the state of special effects. Most of Return is really, really good. They just don’t have the ending. It’s too little. The film’s promising Balk’s Return to Oz, Oz meaning her friends—and the familiar characters—it’s promising the magic. Balk finds herself having to fight through a lot of darkness to find the happy again. She’s got a hero arc and needs a solid resolution to it. Murch doesn’t have the money for it and rushes it, minimizes it. Maybe it could be rushed, maybe it could be minimized, but it can’t be both. It’s too little for what the film’s built up.

And then the epilogue is sweet enough but not strong enough. Return to Oz is almost there. It’s so close and for a good while, it seems like it’s going to make it. And you want it to succeed because, maybe Henson’s Jack Pumpkinhead aside, the new sidekicks are good enough, especially in the grittier Oz.

Finally, David Shire’s score. It’s a perfect metaphor for the film. It gets really close to clicking, then doesn’t. Shire’s music is perfectly adequate for a “kid in the olden times” picture, but not for a magical adventure.

Return to Oz is rather awesome, but it’s also a bummer. They made the magic, they just didn’t know what to do with it.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Walter Murch; screenplay by Murch and Gill Dennis, based on novels by L. Frank Baum; director of photography, David Watkin; edited by Leslie Hodgson; music by David Shire; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Paul Maslansky; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Fairuza Balk (Dorothy), Mak Wilson & Denise Bryer (Billina), Michael Sundin, Tim Rose, & Sean Barrett (Tik-Tok), Stewart Harvey-Wilson & Brian Henson (Jack Pumpkinhead), Stephen Norrington & Lyle Conway (Gump), Jean Marsh (Mombi), Piper Laurie (Aunt Em), Matt Clark (Uncle Henry), Emma Ridley (girl), and Nicol Williamson (The Nome King).


This post is part of the Wizard of Oz Blogathon hosted by Rebecca of Taking Up Room.

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Class Action (1991, Michael Apted)

With Conrad L. Hall shooting it and James Horner (pre-Titanic and fame) scoring, Class Action is great looking and sounding. Apted’s composition is frequently excellent. But it’s a vehicle for Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and it, rather unfortunately, eventually just works on that vehicle level. There’s no real surprises, no real content… just running time with good acting, directing and production values and nothing else. Class Action isn’t even an exciting courtroom drama. There are maybe three scenes in court. Most of the movie is Mastrantonio realizing she doesn’t want to be a heartless corporate lawyer and, given how evil her bosses act, it’s not a surprise.

There is one excellent underlying detail to the movie though–with Mastrantonio playing Gene Hackman’s daughter and Larry Fishburne playing his protégé, the film actually takes the time to acknowledge (but not explore, which is realistic but not necessarily the best move in such an anorexic story) their complicated relationship. The scenes with Mastrantonio and Fishburne are her best, mostly because her other relationships are generic. She’s mad at Dad, so those scenes have to play a certain way. The scenes with love interest Colin Friels are troublesome (as is Friels’s one note performance), because it’s unbelievable she’d ever be with him.

As for Hackman… he’s great in the scenes with Mastrantonio. Her worst and his best (she’s good throughout and excellent in parts, just not those). Even though Hall’s lighting is most loving for Mastrantonio (her skin glows), he’s very soft on Hackman too. The other Hackman scenes are somewhat standard Hackman material, but in the scenes with Mastrantonio, he’s exercising some of his other acting muscles.

The supporting cast–besides Jonathan Silverman (his performance in this one is indistinguishable from, say, Weekend at Bernie’s)–is solid, Jan Rubes, Fred Dalton Thompson and Matt Clark being the standouts. And Fishburne, of course.

Class Action is fine, but had it definitely gone either way–legal drama, family drama–it would have been in better shape. But for a movie written by a couple “Growing Pains” writers, it’s pretty good.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Apted; written by Carolyn Shelby, Christopher Ames and Samantha Shad; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by Ian Crafford; music by James Horner; production designer, Todd Hallowell; produced by Ted Field, Scott Kroopf and Robert W. Cort; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gene Hackman (Jedediah Tucker Ward), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Maggie Ward), Colin Friels (Michael Grazier), Joanna Merlin (Estelle Ward), Laurence Fishburne (Nick Holbrook), Donald Moffat (Fred Quinn), Jan Rubes (Alexander Pavel), Matt Clark (Judge R. Symes), Fred Dalton Thompson (Dr. George Getchell), Jonathan Silverman (Brian), Joan McMurtrey (Ann) and Anne Ramsay (Deborah).


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The Driver (1978, Walter Hill)

There are limits to how much patented Walter Hill machismo one person can take and The Driver pushes its limit early on. Well, maybe not too early on, since the movie runs ninety minutes. It doesn’t help Ryan O’Neal doesn’t talk, Isabelle Adjani chokes through her English dialogue, and Bruce Dern turns in an exceptionally lousy performance. Dern’s bad acting is is a giant flare warning one away from The Driver. No one trying to make a good film–I mean Adjani’s character could just be learning English too–would allow Dern’s performance. But Hill isn’t trying to make a good movie. He’s trying to make a tough, macho movie, making his casting choice of O’Neal hilarious.

O’Neal’s not particularly bad–since he doesn’t have much dialogue, there’s a lot less of a chance it’s going to be as terrible as the other characters’ dialogue–but he looks lost. His expression reminds of a deer trapped in the headlights, or an actor who stumbled on to the wrong set one morning and couldn’t get off.

Hill spent a lot of time choreographing his chase scenes, but they’re not any good. They’re gimmicky and boring. He reduces the police cars to objects, not vehicles containing people, in an attempt to desensitize the viewer for when O’Neal causes the cop cars to flip over or crash. Then he makes the cop hunting O’Neal (Dern in that atrocious performance) a vicious, corrupt bastard, so the audience will immediately side with baby-face O’Neal. I mean, he was in Paper Moon, after all.

Maybe if Hill’s direction weren’t so artless, The Driver would be a little more tolerable. There’s a mythic director’s cut to the film, running thirty minutes–thirty terrible minutes, I’m sure–longer. I can’t imagine how much more bad dialogue, boring action and lousy performances one film could contain. Dern’s real bad in this film, I’m not exaggerating; it’s one of the worst performances I can remember seeing from a movie not lensed in someone’s backyard. And even the music’s bad. But on the plus side, I think the opening titles were competently presented. No visible misspellings or capitalization errors.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Walter Hill; director of photography, Philip Lathrop; edited by Tina Hirsch and Robert K. Lambert; music by Michael Small; production designer, Harry Horner; produced by Lawrence Gordon; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ryan O’Neal (The Driver), Bruce Dern (The Detective), Isabelle Adjani (The Player), Ronee Blakley (The Connection), Matt Clark (Red Plainclothesman), Felice Orlandi (Gold Plainclothesman), Joseph Walsh (Glasses) and Rudy Ramos (Teeth).


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