Tag Archives: Orion Pictures

Article 99 (1992, Howard Deutch)

Director of not one, not two, but three 1980s John Hughes movies, Howard Deutch applies those hard-earned skills to remaking M*A*S*H and, shockingly, doesn’t do too bad of a job. Sure, Article 99 is absurd and Lea Thompson as a doctor is a hoot, but its well-intentioned and sensitive to its characters. I’d heard of the movie before–I think I even have an Article 99 scrub shirt–but I thought it was a period piece, set either during Vietnam or just after. Instead, it’s set in modernity, which allows for the villains to be Republicans without military service who are trying to save a buck at the expense of veterans. Kind of eerie, isn’t it?

Even with a terrible opening–after a moderately classy, if way too forced Americana title sequence–pissed off vet Leo Burmester (nicknamed Shooter) tries to take the hospital hostage. It’s a loony sequence, but it introduces all of the characters pretty well and is one of the few times Article 99 is trying to be its own thing, instead of that M*A*S*H remake. It’s also the first time Danny Elfman reuses some of his more famous scores in Article 99 (though his love theme for the film, which seems to be an original, is nice). Following that sequence, Article 99 calms down a bit. There are hijinks, evil bureaucrats and so on, but it doesn’t jar the viewer’s suspension of disbelief until the end.

The reason Article 99 succeeds, even with the cartoonishness, is its actors. Kiefer Sutherland is earnest (even if his character making it through medical school seems unlikely) and likable. Forest Whitaker and John C. McGinley are good in supporting roles. I already mentioned the unbearably terrible Thompson, but Deutch seemed to realize it and only kept ten of her lines in the picture. But there’s Eli Wallach and Keith David to make up for it. Wallach has some great scenes with Sutherland and some great dialogue too (the script’s got a bunch of good one liners). David’s the all-knowing vet and even though the character’s goofy, David makes it work. John Mahoney’s villain is a solid John Mahoney villain, if a little less ruthless (he doesn’t get to kill anyone) than the usual.

I saved this paragraph just for Ray Liotta and Kathy Baker. Liotta’s performance–a leading man performance–is fantastic. It’s hard to believe he couldn’t make it as a lead, just because he’s so obvious great at it. Except then there’s the romance with Baker. Their courtship–and Elfman’s score for it–is one of the best things about Article 99, even if it seems totally out of place, both in terms of plot and quality.

Article 99 has its highs and lows, but wisely starts at its lowest point (the silly plot development at the end is more palatable after Burmester driving his car into the hospital in the opening). There’s a real sincerity to it, not just in the approach to the content, but also in the presentation of it. Liotta has a scene where he lectures amoral boss Mahoney on the duties of VA doctors and makes it work. It shouldn’t work, but it really does.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Deutch; written by Ron Cutler; director of photography, Richard Bowen; edited by Richard Halsey; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Virginia L. Randolph; produced by Michael Gruskoff and Michael I. Levy; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Ray Liotta (Dr. Richard Sturgess), Kiefer Sutherland (Dr. Peter Morgan), Forest Whitaker (Dr. Sid Handleman), Lea Thompson (Dr. Robin Van Dorn), John C. McGinley (Dr. Rudy Bobrick), John Mahoney (Dr. Henry Dreyfoos), Keith David (Luther Jermoe), Kathy Baker (Dr. Diana Walton), Eli Wallach (Sam Abrams), Noble Willingham (Inspector General), Julie Bovasso (Amelia Sturdeyvant), Troy Evans (Pat Travis), Lynne Thigpen (Nurse White), Jeffrey Tambor (Dr. Leo Krutz), Leo Burmester (Shooter Polaski), Ernest Abuba (Ikiro Tenabe) and Rutanya Alda (Ann Travis).


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First Blood (1982, Ted Kotcheff)

Maybe if it weren’t for the Stephen J. Cannell television techniques (cars flying through the air or exploding on impact), the asinine, comedic banter between the deputies, some poor writing and Richard Crenna, First Blood might have been okay. Ted Kotcheff isn’t a good director though, so maybe not. Kotcheff shoots exteriors well (the stuff a second unit could have also done), but his composition for actors is simplistic and his director of the actors is terrible. Crenna’s role is just idiotically written, but both Stallone and Brian Dennehy careen from good to bad and not all their writing is bad; Kotcheff was just a terrible fit.

First Blood‘s actually kind of boring, mostly because it wastes all of its potential. The opening with Stallone visiting a friend off a beautiful lake really works, because it gets across the idea Rambo smiles when he sees children play. That characterization of Rambo doesn’t hold up through the entire movie and it’s a real problem. Anyway, after the opening, there’s the whole small town cops hassle Rambo stuff. Those scenes have some potential. Not a lot, because the transition from the sensitive Rambo who comforts an angry woman isn’t there. But David Caruso’s good as the sympathetic young deputy and Dennehy’s sheriff is still just a Western bad guy (the big mistake is later, when the script tries to give him depth).

But then Stallone hops on a motorcycle and starts doing wheelies and all the reality goes whoosh. Of course, after just showing him as a heartless animal, he’s warning people to get out of the way of the motorcycle on the sidewalk. Then there’s the long sequence in the forest, with awful cinematography. Then Richard Crenna shows up and is terrible and then a bunch of other stuff, then the ending Gremlins seems to have ripped off a little (it’s okay, since First Blood stole a lot from Raiders of the Lost Ark).

All the while, Jerry Goldsmith’s absurd score booms. Goldsmith appears to have never seen First Blood and is instead scoring an action movie with motorcycles. Oh, wait….

Stallone really does try during some of the scenes, but it doesn’t work. His big monologue is nowhere near as effective as when he tells some guy to get out of a speeding truck. Some of his wordless grunting scenes are bad, but most of his stuff is just boring–the movie probably spends fifteen minutes with him walking silently through a mine.

Nothing, of course, compares to that terrible end credit song, which is horrific. Sadly, the moment just before the song starts, Goldsmith’s score is for one second appropriate and First Blood actually seems all right. Then the song starts.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Kotcheff; screenplay by Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim and Sylvester Stallone, based on the novel by David Morrell; director of photography, Andrew Laszlo; edited by Joan E. Chapman; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Wolf Kroeger; produced by Buzz Feitshans; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (John J. Rambo), Richard Crenna (Col. Samuel Trautman), Brian Dennehy (Hope Sheriff Will Teasle), Bill McKinney (State Police Capt. Dave Kern), Jack Starrett (Deputy Sgt. Arthur Galt), Michael Talbott (Deputy Balford), Chris Mulkey (Deputy Ward), John McLiam (Orval the Dog Man), Alf Humphreys (Deputy Lester), David Caruso (Deputy Mitch), David L. Crowley (Deputy Shingleton) and Don MacKay (Preston).


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The Silence of the Lambs (1991, Jonathan Demme)

No matter how hard Howard Shore’s score tries, The Silence of the Lambs is just a serial killer movie. I knew it was just a serial killer movie–that realization had occurred to me quite a long time ago–but its adherence to genre standards are still somewhat surprising. The movie wastes so much time on Anthony Hopkins, when he really has only a little to do with the actual story. Even taking into account he brings Jodie Foster into the big case, it doesn’t exactly matter. Foster’s momentous life change in the narrative is becoming an FBI agent, as the closing ceremony attests. Had the movie been about this cadet who got sucked into a huge case, ended up solving it by accident while having these disturbing encounters… well, then it would have made some sense.

The novel was a bestseller and, I’m assuming, Ted Tally felt the need to closely adapt it in regards to Hannibal Lecter. But what the script does is leave the Hopkins and Foster story incomplete while only giving a cursory examination of the actual investigation. Worse, Jonathan Demme lets the Lecter malarky distract from the one thing he has going. The escape, for example, eats up a bunch of running time–why, because the viewer is supposed to think the serial killer is cool for getting away so smart. The escape scene, the revelation of his intelligence and fast thinking, is not treated as a horrific event, rather something to be admired. It plays well on screen, sure, but we’re supposed to be admiring a serial killer.

That one thing Demme had? The way every single male in the first half of the movie ogled or propositioned Foster. It created a disquieting atmosphere and, when I was giving Demme some credit, gave the appearance of having some analog with the story of a man trying to become a woman. I don’t know how, but it doesn’t matter, because Demme flushed the whole subtext down the toilet once he got to do his big escape scene (with two cameos from Demme regulars, Buzz Kilman and Chris Isaak). The rampant sexism thing was never going to work or make Silence somehow special, but at least it would have been an interesting failure.

The acting’s okay. Hopkins has some okay moments, some not. Lots of the problems come from Demme’s annoying direction–he does his whole “stare directly into the camera while speaking” thing here. Foster’s equally problematic, because her character is never believable. I can’t picture her eating a sandwich, for instance, and the whole thing about her being really ambitious (masking insecurity), but she never shows it.

As the serial killer, Ted Levine is great. Anthony Heald is also great. Scott Glenn’s role is terribly written.

Demme runs hot and cold. With the exception of his close-ups, almost everything is good. The end, for instance, is rather scary.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Demme; screenplay by Ted Tally, based on the novel by Thomas Harris; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Craig McKay; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Kristi Zea; produced by Kenneth Utt, Edward Saxon and Ronald M. Bozman; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Jodie Foster (Clarice Starling), Anthony Hopkins (Dr. Hannibal Lecter), Scott Glenn (Jack Crawford), Anthony Heald (Dr. Frederick Chilton), Ted Levine (Jame Gumb), Frankie Faison (Barney Matthews), Kasi Lemmons (Ardelia Mapp), Brooke Smith (Catherine Martin), Paul Lazar (Pilcher) and Dan Butler (Roden).


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Arthur (1981, Steve Gordon)

Steve Gordon died the year after Arthur came out, so he never made any other films, which is an exceptional tragedy. Arthur is a singular comedy–it’s a mix of laugh-out-loud comedy, romantic comedy, sincere human relationships and genuine character development. The first two are not mutually exclusive, but I’m not even sure Woody Allen’s managed to combine them with the second two (two of Woody’s regular producers, in fact, produced Arthur). Gordon frequently gets affecting hilarious scenes going–usually involving John Gielgud–and the film’s a joy to watch.

For the last third, Gordon takes a hint from Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and sets everything at one location. (Oddly, as Dudley Moore shuffles in–the character’s a complete drunk and Moore’s got some incredible bits with how far he’ll go to protect his alcohol–I thought it’d be interesting if Gordon did the Deeds close, but didn’t even realize he had until I started typing this post up). It’s a good format for the close, but also the only part where Gordon stumbles. He offers the film’s most profound moments, then shies away. Worse, he continues this absurd life-threatening subplot, which kind of worked as a joke in a scene in the middle, but at the end… it had me thinking about framed bellboys instead of the movie itself.

The acting in the film is all excellent. Gielgud’s performance as Moore’s exasperated but loving butler is exceptional. The scenes with him and Moore are all great, just getting better as the film goes along. Moore, as the leading man, is a comic genius–he can make his heel of a character utterly sympathetic from the first moment on film. Also great are Anne De Salvo, Ted Ross and Barney Martin. Strangely–or maybe not–Liza Minnelli’s best scenes are the ones without Moore. She and Moore are good together, but they’re very cute, and when it’s her and Martin or her and Gielgud, the scenes just have a lot more resonance. It’s a romantic comedy, of course she’s got to have scenes with Moore, but the rest of her scenes–even the brief second watching her at work–are when it’s obvious Gordon was really writing the character.

For a while, I thought Arthur was going to be that supreme example I’d compare all other popular comedies against. The way Gordon serves actual human regard with the funny stuff, it’s incredibly rare (because the laughs Gordon goes for are cheap, popular laughs). So, it might not be the ultimate comparison, but it’s still great.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Steve Gordon; director of photography, Fred Schuler; edited by Susan E. Morse; music by Burt Bacharach; production designer, Stephen Hendrickson; produced by Charles H. Joffe; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Dudley Moore (Arthur Bach), Liza Minnelli (Linda Marolla), John Gielgud (Hobson), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Martha Bach), Jill Eikenberry (Susan Johnson), Stephen Elliott (Burt Johnson), Ted Ross (Bitterman), Barney Martin (Ralph Marolla), Thomas Barbour (Stanford Bach) and Anne De Salvo (Gloria).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | ARTHUR (1981) / ARTHUR 2: ON THE ROCKS (1987).