Tag Archives: Michael Butler

Fifty/Fifty (1992, Charles Martin Smith)

Fifty/Fifty is the last film where crap-master screenwriters Dennis Shryack and Michael Butler worked together, though it appears they wrote the script in the mid-eighties. It’s one of their best films, which isn’t difficult, only because the film occasionally batters its viewer with man’s inhumanity to his fellow man (in this film’s case, it’s when the President of the United States sides with the vicious dictator and helps him kill the rebels). The film’s politics are incredibly anti-American, which would have made it interesting if it’d been successful.

It was not.

The script’s a lot at fault, but it’s a Cannon picture, so it’s not like there was a lot of budget behind it, or production values. They cast Robert Hays, who trades on being genial but not particularly likable–he’s still the guy from Airplane! so watching him in scenes with Peter Weller, it kind of works and kind of doesn’t. While the two do make their camaraderie work, Weller acts circles around Hays; it makes things awkward. Hays’s character has a more difficult arc and needs the more nuanced performance.

Charles Martin Smith’s supporting role in the film is better than the majority of his direction–though he gets it during the battle scenes, which makes it somewhat incomprehensible how he doesn’t get the–presumably–easier straight comedy or action scenes. He does a decent job with the actors, especially Ramona Rahman, who has a laughable character at times but is always presented well.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Charles Martin Smith; written by Dennis Shryack and Michael Butler; director of photography, David Connell; edited by James Mitchell; music by Peter Bernstein; production designer, Errol Kelly; produced by Maurice Singer and Raymond Wagner; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Peter Weller (Jake Wyer), Robert Hays (Sam French), Charles Martin Smith (Martin Sprue), Ramona Rahman (Suleta), Kay Tong Lim (Akhantar), Dom Magwili (General Bosavi), Azmil Mustapha (Colonel Kota), Dharma Harun Al-Rashid (Sentul), Os (Jamik), Ursula Martin (Liz Powell) and Sharudeen Tamby (Colonel Seng).


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The Gauntlet (1977, Clint Eastwood)

I think I watched The Gauntlet for masochistic reasons, namely screenwriters Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack, the late 1970s, early 1980s version of Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner–incompetent Hollywood writers. Even so, the film’s not wholly terrible. It’s rarely exciting, just because the action sequences are so poorly written, and Clint approaches the whole thing with a sense of boredom. His character’s real shallow and the film would barely work if it weren’t for Sondra Locke and Eastwood’s chemistry. Locke’s actually got some really good moments–which is hard, considering how bad her character is written for the first half or so–including a great monologue comparing hookers and cops. In the later half of the film, once the two of them improbably fall in love, there’s even a neat idea of a scene, but again the writing kills it.

About fifteen minutes into The Gauntlet, I realized it was not dissimilar to Clint’s earlier, Coogan’s Bluff, but the greatest difference between the two is that lack of interest I mentioned before. Clint shoots this one in lots of long shots, concentrating on the physicality of the situations and not the characters, as though if he did, the characters might have to realize the absurdity of their situation. So it isn’t just the script making the character shallow, it’s also Clint’s direction of himself–those long shots make the character empty. His performance is sort of broad. When he’s interested, he acts; when he’s not, he’s on autopilot.

The supporting cast is fantastic–William Prince, Pat Hingle, and Michael Cavanaugh are all good. The names in the movie are some of the most absurd I’ve heard: Blakelock, Feyderspiel, Shockley. The actors stumble over them with a lot of trouble–audible trouble, which sometimes makes the more boring scenes funny. An interesting, IMDb-fueled note: this film reunites Clint with Mara Corday. They both appeared in Tarantula twenty-two years earlier, though they didn’t have any scenes together (and Clint wasn’t credited). That bit of trivia–and the possibility of a story behind it–is more interesting than anything in The Gauntlet, except, I suppose, my newfound regard for Sondra Locke’s acting ability.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; screenplay by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack; director of photography, Rexford Metz; edited by Ferris Webster and Joel Cox; music by Jerry Fielding; produced by Robert Daley; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Ben Shockley), Sondra Locke (Gus Mally), Pat Hingle (Josephson), William Prince (Blakelock), Bill McKinney (Constable), Michael Cavanaugh (Feyderspiel), Carole Cock (Waitress), Mara Corday (Jail matron), Douglas McGrath (Bookie) and Jeff Morris (Desk Sergeant).


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The Car (1977, Elliot Silverstein)

Sitting and watching The Car in 2006, it was amusing to know what Universal studio executives were saying about the film some thirty years ago… “It’s like Jaws, but with a car.” At first, I thought the movie was some kind of Duel remake, but then the Jaws comparisons became obvious, but not obvious in any sort of interesting way, not any sort of amusing way. Instead–in between scenes of the demonic (literally) car–the movie’s filled with some really lame melodrama and some really lame performances. R.G. Armstrong, who I thought was good for some reason, is terrible as a wife-beating husband. The only amusing role he plays in the film is when it turns around and heroizes him. John Marley is laughably bad, Ronny Cox is on the lousy side of mediocre, and lead James Brolin’s most interesting contribution is his unmoving hair helmet. John Rubinstein is good in his one scene and Kathleen Lloyd–who I watched the movie for in the first place–varies in degree, getting quite appealing at some points… usually when she isn’t acting alongside Brolin.

The film’s almost indescribable to those who haven’t seen it and I wonder if it didn’t sustain my interest just as a relic. Universal pictures from the 1970s have some distinct common elements and I kept recognizing them throughout The Car. Not the bad acting or the visually stymied direction from Elliot Silverstein, but the setpieces. Somehow, they were all familiar, like Universal had gotten a formula from The Birds and just kept on using it. The writing is horrendous too, with the aforementioned bad melodrama, but also the stupidity of the film’s situation. I kept waiting for it to get freaky or interesting (like what if someone got in the driver-less, devil car or what if the guy who kept Clark Kenting during the car’s appearances had something to do with it), but it never did. The resolution, which looks like it was filmed on someone’s front lawn in parts, is ludicrous. It’s unbelievable it passed studio muster, though the film might have just been a B-picture, though I always thought Brolin was actually a movie star in the late 1970s. I’m most upset about Kathleen Lloyd, who’s only been in a handful of movies and one of them had to be this piece of–somehow perplexing enough to be watchable–crap.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Elliot Silverstein; written by Lane Slate, Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack, from a story by Butler and Shyrack; director of photography, Gerald Hirschfeld; edited by Michael McCroskey; music by Leonard Rosenman; produced by Silverstein and Marvin Birdt; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring James Brolin (Wade Parent), Kathleen Lloyd (Lauren), John Marley (Everett), R.G. Armstrong (Amos), John Rubinstein (John Morris) and Ronny Cox (Luke).


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