Tag Archives: Michael Caine

Dressed to Kill (1980, Brian De Palma)

Dressed to Kill has oodles of style. It doesn’t have a lot else going for it–a lot of the acting, sure, but the acting never pays off for anyone–but it does have style. Director De Palma and cinematographer Ralf D. Bode create an ethereal New York for the action to play out in.

The film opens with sexually dissatisfied housewife Angie Dickinson fantasizing about, well, something more satisfying. De Palma’s got Pino Donaggio music and Donaggio music can get away with a lot but even it can make a smutty shower scene play. The film then introduces Keith Gordon as Dickinson’s technology nerd teenage son before bringing in top-billed Michael Caine. He’s Dickinson’s therapist. She goes to therapy before she goes to the museum to pick up a man.

After picking up the man, which isn’t a good pickup sequence at all, but is a fantastically executed bit of filmmaking. Dickinson’s walking around the museum, everything’s silent, and it’s just great. Bode, De Palma, editor Gerald B. Greenberg, it’s awesome.

When she wakes up at the man’s apartment, Dickinson finds herself involved in a bloody homicide. Nancy Allen comes into the film at this point to also witness the murder, setting off Allen’s story line. The killer is after her, it turns out, eventually leading to her teaming up with Gordon.

Caine’s in it because he’s pretty sure the killer is another one of his patients, though he doesn’t want to give that information to cop Dennis Franz. Franz, meanwhile, is trying to get Allen to help on the case. She’s a sex worker and he’s sort of blackmailing her? Franz is a creep. When De Palma tries to do a denouement redemption of Franz, it’s one of Dressed’s worst moments. De Palma’s script is occasionally jaw-dropping in its pure stupidity, but the redemption of Franz is something else. Especially given it comes through the big “explanation” scene (out of Psycho, natch, with that museum pickup being out of Vertigo) where De Palma manages to be–at least what appears to be–unintentionally transphobic.

One of Dressed’s big plot twists–it’s got at least two, maybe three depending on how you want to count the minor ones (because then there are plenty of minor “twists”)–involves a transsexual person. Dressed to Kill is exploitation. It’s gorgeous, it’s got sometimes A list stars, but it’s exploitation. Yet when De Palma brings in gender dysphoria, it doesn’t seem like he’s using it as a punchline. Because he butchers what he’s doing with it, bringing in multiple personalities and whatnot. The script is really, really stupid. It’s hard to explain how unintentionally stupid Dressed to Kill can get.

And not when De Palma’s intending it either. He has quite a few split screen shots in the film, which works in maybe two cases, but never with Dickinson. Dickinson has the split screen shots to remember something sexual or somehow related to sex. Given how little material De Palma actually gives Dickinson to work with in the script, her performance is incredibly impressive.

But De Palma doesn’t direct the actors poorly. He often directs them quite well. Everyone gets good direction. Even Dennis Franz. It’s just Franz is one step too far. Dressed to Kill’s fairytale New York City clashes with Franz’s lounge lizard detective.

Allen’s decent throughout, occasionally downright excellent. Dickinson’s good. The script does her no favors and neither does Greenberg’s editing (everything else he can edit, but not Dickinson’s reaction and pensive close-ups), but she’s good. Caine’s fine. De Palma doesn’t really give him a lot to do. He meanders through the film.

Gordon’s good. He’s really likable. The likable part is more important. Once he and Allen are hanging out, there’s this strange lack of sexual energy, like only the adults in De Palma movies get to be sex-crazed. And they’re mostly all sex-crazed and De Palma wants to talk about it. A De Palma scripted interchange between a sex worker and a therapist is simultaneously cringe-inducing and mesmerizing.

Dressed to Kill is, overall, cringe-inducing and mesmerizing. It looks beautiful. It sounds beautiful. It’s just vapid. Sometime in the second act, it seems like it might get a little less vapid.

It doesn’t. But it still moves pretty well. There’s an unfortunate false ending, coming after some of the biggest third act problems, but the quality of the filmmaking–and Allen’s performance–gets it through. And brings up the film a bit.

A bit is a lot for Dressed to Kill.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Brian De Palma; director of photography, Ralf D. Bode; edited by Gerald B. Greenberg; music by Pino Donaggio; produced by George Litto; released by Filmways Pictures.

Starring Michael Caine (Doctor Robert Elliott), Angie Dickinson (Kate Miller), Nancy Allen (Liz Blake), Keith Gordon (Peter Miller), Dennis Franz (Detective Marino), and David Margulies (Dr. Levy).


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Jaws: The Revenge (1987, Joseph Sargent), the international version

If only there were something remarkable about Jaws: The Revenge. Just one thing terrible enough about it to make it somehow interesting. Jaws: The Revenge is unremarkably bad in its unremarkable badness. As the opening titles rolled, with shark POV of a New England harbor, I wanted it to be some kind of strange close to director Sargent’s theatrical output. But it isn’t. It’s not even interesting to think about as a film Sargent also produced. Lorraine Gary isn’t secretly great in the ostensible lead role. Lance Guest isn’t good at all as her son who sort of takes over protagonist when he hides the knowledge of a thirty-foot great white shark from the Coast Guard and it eventually attacks his daughter, setting his mother out to sea to sacrifice herself to the shark.

It’s a movie about a shark hunting a family and there’s no joy to it. Michael De Guzman’s script is painfully unaware, but Sargent’s direction shouldn’t be. Even though they have the same bland result, Sargent’s dumbing down and failing at it. He’s got actual ambitions during the first fifteen or twenty minutes; sure, he’s trying to avoid responsible narrative progression through some really cheap TV movie devices, but he’s trying something. It’s activity. By the second half, when Guest and his scientist sidekick, Mario Van Peebles doing an extremely bad Jamaican accent in a lousy performance, Sargent’s totally checked out. Gary has mostly disappeared and it’s just poorly shot shark hunting sequences.

And the shark sequences are another unremarkable, but should be somehow wonderfully cheesy element of the film. Sargent has a couple intense underwater sequences, including the shark hunting Guest through a sunken ship–which is idiotic but at least it’s something in a film where Gary and Michael Caine dancing in a street fair constitutes an action set piece. There’s no thrill to Jaws: The Revenge, there’s no spectacle. Thankfully, there’s no attempt at either of them–Revenge is rather poorly produced after all. Michael Small’s music is bad, Michael Brown’s editing is bad, John McPherson’s cinematography is pretty lame (though better than the editing or the music). It’s just a lame movie.

Maybe if there were some diamond in the rough, like if Karen Young actually gave a really good performance as Guest’s suffering wife, but she doesn’t. She does better than most everyone else but she’s not good. Lynn Whitfield might give the closet thing to the best performance and some of it is because she’s not it in a lot. The more you have to do in Jaws: The Revenge, the worse off you are.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Joseph Sargent; screenplay by Michael De Guzman, based on characters created by Peter Benchley; director of photography, John McPherson; edited by Michael Brown; music by Michael Small; production designer, John J. Lloyd; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody), Lance Guest (Michael), Karen Young (Carla), Michael Caine (Hoagie), Mario Van Peebles (Jake), Judith Barsi (Thea), Lynn Whitfield (Louisa) and Mitchell Anderson (Sean).


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Now You See Me (2013, Louis Leterrier), the extended edition

Now You See Me plays a little like Ocean’s Eleven without Steven Soderbergh and a great cast of supporting character actors instead of lead actors doing an ensemble. Except maybe Jesse Eisenberg. He acts like he’s running See Me, even though he’s not in it very much. And his character’s supposed to be acting like he owns it… it kind of works.

Director Leterrier is outstanding at the flash. There’s a flashy car chase, there’s flashy magic acts, there’s flashy this, there’s flashy that–but he’s also capable of doing a nice, quiet character arc for Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurent. They’ve got wonderful chemistry. They play the federal agents (okay, she’s from Interpol but whatever) after Eisenberg and his fellow outlaw magicians (an amusing Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher in the film’s only bad performance and a very appealing Dave Franco). Along the way, they get a little flirty and it’s a nice subplot for the picture, which is very busy with it’s more scripted plotting.

Besides the magicians–and See Me jumps ahead a year from their introduction, so they’re no longer reliable protagonists–there’s the FBI, but also Morgan Freeman as a magician debunker and Michael Caine’s around too as the magician’s wealthy benefactor. Leterrier juggles everything quite well–the film doesn’t even drag until the car chase, almost seventy minutes in, gets a little long in the tooth.

It’s just empty and dumb. An actual smart script, and not a sneaky one, would have helped a lot.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Leterrier; screenplay by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt, based on a story by Yakin and Ricourt; directors of photography, Mitchell Amundsen and Larry Fong; edited by Robert Leighton and Vincent Tabaillon; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Peter Wenham; produced by Bobby Cohen, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Mark Ruffalo (Dylan Rhodes), Mélanie Laurent (Alma Dray), Jesse Eisenberg (J. Daniel Atlas), Woody Harrelson (Merritt McKinney), Isla Fisher (Henley Reeves), Dave Franco (Jack Wilder), Morgan Freeman (Thaddeus Bradley), Michael Caine (Arthur Tressler), Michael Kelly (Agent Fuller), Common (Evans), David Warshofsky (Cowan) and José Garcia (Etienne Forcier).

Without a Clue (1988, Thom E. Eberhardt)

Without a Clue has an amusing premise–what if Sherlock Holmes is a buffoon and Dr. Watson is the genius–and generally succeeds in executing it. Director Eberhardt brings very little to the film (one wonders if his single goal was keeping Michael Caine in the center of each frame), but the production is handsomely enough mounted, even if there is a lack of scope. Most of the film’s action takes place indoors, where Eberhardt goes for cheap laughs. Outdoors, at least, Alan Hume’s cinematography gets to breath.

Caine is hilarious as Holmes, but he’s nothing compared to Ben Kingsley as Watson. Kingsley brings intelligence, suffering and sympathy to the role, while still maintaining a commanding lead presence. Unfortunately–except for Peter Cook in a bit part and Nigel Davenport in a slightly bigger one–the rest of the cast has little to offer.

That problem is two fold. The script gives the supporting players, except Pat Keen, almost nothing to do. Watching third-billed Jeffrey Jones run about is painful, especially since his comic scenes are so poorly written and Jones loses his forced accent explicitly during his comic scenes. Lysette Anthony is mostly useless as the damsel in distress, though she does some quality; it seems Clue failed her.

Henry Mancini’s score is a lot of fun for the period; Mancini excels at the comedy scenes. He doesn’t do so well for the action-packed finale, but neither does Eberhardt so no foul.

Clue‘s a lot of fun.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Thom E. Eberhardt; written by Gary Murphy and Larry Strawther, based on characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Peter Tanner; music by Henry Mancini; production designer, Brian Ackland-Snow; produced by Marc Stirdivant; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Michael Caine (Sherlock Holmes), Ben Kingsley (Dr. John Watson), Jeffrey Jones (Inspector Lestrade), Lysette Anthony (Leslie Giles), Paul Freeman (Professor James Moriarty), Nigel Davenport (Lord Smithwick), Pat Keen (Mrs. Hudson), Peter Cook (Norman Greenhough), Tim Killick (Sebastian Moran) and Matthew Savage (Wiggins).