Tag Archives: Michael Caine

A Shock to the System (1990, Jan Egleson)

A Shock to the System is almost a success. It’s real close. It has all the right pieces, it just doesn’t have enough time at the end to put them away in their new arrangement. Everything’s in disarray because the film changes into a thriller—with a different protagonist—for a while in the third act. After spending the entire movie with Michael Caine, who even narrates, the film temporarily changes perspective to his love interest, Elizabeth McGovern. It’s only for a few minutes—System runs just under ninety so everything’s just for a few minutes—but it jostles the film enough it can’t pull off a perfunctory finish. And it needs a perfunctory finish because budget. System’s got shoot in New York City with good actors but not blow up expensive things budget.

Caine is a Wall Street yuppie who commutes from Connecticut. The movie starts with him about to get a big promotion; boss John McMartin is expecting to lose his job in an imminent merger. Caine’s excited because he feels like he’s unappreciated, even though everyone who works for him thinks he’s a swell guy (including McGovern, who’s got a crush on him). Caine’s wife Swoosie Kurtz is excited because now they’ll finally have enough money for all the things she wants to buy. An implied but completely unexplored subplot is Caine marrying Kurtz for money. Even though there are hints at Caine wishing they were more affection, they never have any chemistry to suggest he married her for her money and she married him because he was going places.

So, of course Caine doesn’t get the job. Worse, one of his kiss-ass underlings (Peter Riegert) gets promoted over him. Caine leaves work early to simmer and gets into an altercation with a homeless guy on the subway platform. The homeless guy dies. And nothing bad happens to Caine.

Although the film opens with Caine getting a literal Shock, that household incident isn’t the inciting incident for anything. It’s a framing detail; the film itself is about Caine realizing he’s a sociopath and figuring out how to use it to his advantage.

The film makes a lot of hash, in the first act, out of Caine being too nice of a boss. He’s not enough of a yuppie scumbag. He doesn’t fire people. He also doesn’t… have any great ideas about his job. It’s just his turn. The only reason he gets any sympathy for not getting the promotion is because Kurtz is mean and Riegert is a weiner. One of the weirder reasons Riegert is a weiner is because he’s dating a model (Haviland Morris) who he likes dating. After the promotion, Caine and Kurtz have to go out to Riegert’s lake house and, ew, they seem to like one another. It’s a strange shortcut for the film to take.

But it’s fine because Caine’s able to carry it. See, he’s empowered now and he’s not going to put up with Riegert’s shit. There’s only so much Caine is going to take from Riegert, Kurtz, or anyone else. McGovern is one of the only bright lights in Caine’s life, even if he’s too busy being miserable with Kurtz to notice McGovern giving him the look.

Once gets around to acting on his newly found murderous instinct, he finds himself almost immediately on cop Will Patton’s radar. Caine’s not good at pretending he cares. It makes sense to the audience because Caine’s narration has made him to… the film’s version of sympathetic. More sympathetic than anyone else. Because Caine’s real good at playing to sympathies, the audience’s and McGovern’s. When he finally does show his truer nature to both, it starts the film moving towards McGovern’s stint as protagonist.

Caine’s outstanding. He’s the movie. McGovern’s got some good moments and some nice implications of deeper thoughts, but her character is pretty thin. McGovern tries to deepen it but there’s only so much she can do. Director Egleson tries to compensate for McGovern’s lack of material with some meaningful shots, but the movie’s less than ninety minutes; they’re all meaningful shots. Especially the way Egleson shoots the film. He, cinematographer Paul Goldsmith, and editors William M. Anderson and Peter C. Frank do some great work in the film. The way Egleson and Goldsmith shoot McGovern and Caine’s courtship, the way the editors cut it—it’s all superb. And probably why, once the film shifts gears, it’s never able to get back up to speed. They lose too much momentum.

Riegert’s pretty good. He resists chewing on scenery a little much, but it works to imply more depth. Probably.

Kurtz is fine. It’s not a great part and it’s not a great performance, but it’s not a bad one. It’d be nice if there were some nuance to she and Caine’s relationship, but it’s not Kurtz’s fault. Egleson and screenwriter Andrew Klavan just can’t be bothered.

Patton’s okay too. Similar situation to Kurtz.

Jenny Wright gets a nice small part as McGovern’s roommate who starts working for Caine at the start of the film as an example of him being nice, hiring McGovern’s friend. Actually, it’d make the most sense if the film were from her point of view. But anyway.

A Shock to the System has a strong performance from Caine, a good one from McGovern, some spectacular direction from Egleson, some great filmmaking, and some very questionable eighties-to-nineties music from Gary Chang. The music’s a problem. Unless Caine’s preference for smooth jazz is supposed to be a sign of his sociopathy.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jan Egleson; screenplay by Andrew Klavan, based on the novel by Simon Brett; director of photography, Paul Goldsmith; edited by William M. Anderson and Peter C. Frank; music by Gary Chang; production designer, Howard Cummings; produced by Patrick McCormick; released by Corsair Pictures.

Starring Michael Caine (Graham Marshall), Elizabeth McGovern (Stella Anderson), Peter Riegert (Robert Benham), Swoosie Kurtz (Leslie Marshall), Will Patton (Lt. Laker), John McMartin (George Brewster), Jenny Wright (Melanie O’Conner), Haviland Morris (Tara Liston), Philip Moon (Henry Park), and Barbara Baxley (Lillian).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE SECOND MARVELLOUS MICHAEL CAINE BLOGATHON HOSTED BY GILL OF REALWEEGIEMIDGET REVIEWS.


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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).


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