Tag Archives: Polygram

No Looking Back (1998, Edward Burns)

No Looking Back runs just under a hundred minutes. The first half of the film–roughly the first half–evenly relies on its cast. In fact, top-billed Lauren Holly almost has less than either Jon Bon Jovi and director Burns (acting, second-billed) in the first half. It’s a love triangle and she’s the prize. Burns is coming back to Nowhere, Long Island after running away to California years before. Ex-girlfriend Holly has moved on and in with Bon Jovi, who’s ostensibly a childhood friend of Burns’s but it’s a somewhat reluctant friendship. Burns is a jerk from scene two. He has two honest moments in the film; his first and his last. The rest of the time, he’s basically just a prick.

But he’s a different kind of prick than Bon Jovi, who’s the too perfect man. He wants to be a good dad, can’t wait for Holly to join his mom and sisters in the kitchen for football Sunday (he’s in the living room with his brothers), and so on and so forth. There’s this strange transition with sympathies, which Burns (as a writer and director) doesn’t deal with very well. He tries hard to keep the love triangle restless–the three characters never all interact in a single scene, even if all present–and it strains the film at times. But it also pays off because it means Holly gets more opportunity.

Then around the halfway market, a Bruce Springsteen song comes on the radio and No Looking Back totally changes. The first half soundtrack, with the exception of a Patti Scialfa track or two, is indistinct, bland, late nineties pseudo-alternative songs. Nothing distinct. And then, all of a sudden, Holly assumes the protagonist role decisively. Performance, script, direction. The first half of the movie has been an awkward setup to provide back story to turn the second half into a Bruce Springsteen mix tape set to film. And it’s exceptional. The film’s flow is better, the scenes more poignant–I mean, it’s a soap opera. The thing couldn’t fail the Bechdel test more if it tried. But it’s this exceptional soap opera turned character study. And what ends up saving it is when Burns, as writer and director, stops pretending there’s any depth to he and Bon Jovi’s characters. More, the characters have to stop pretending too. It’s awesome.

Plus, there’s scene payoff for most of the supporting cast. Blythe Danner (as Holly’s mom) gets almost nothing in the first half and ends up being essential in pulling off the big finale upswing. Connie Britton’s great as Holly’s sister, with the first half’s least disjointed arc. Jennifer Esposito and Nick Sandow are both good as various friends, though Sandow’s basically Norm from “Cheers” and Esposito doesn’t get enough to do.

Oh–and Joe Delia’s score is a mess in the first half. There’s this generic hard rock theme running through the score. Maybe Burns could only get the four or five Springsteen songs and had to save them, but it’s not a good theme for Holly as Burns intentionally and maliciously upends her life, albeit through accepted social conventions. Score is much better in the second half.

Great photography from Frank Prinzi. Nice, patient editing from Susan Graef.

Holly doesn’t have a great character here; Burns ignored her too much in the first half to setup the second, but she gives an excellent performance. The stuff she gets to do in the second half, it’s like a reward for having to suffer through the first half’s weaker scenes. Bon Jovi gives a strong performance and once Burns, as an actor, gets to the Springsteen section, he really comes through as well.

No Looking Back has more than its share of problems, all of them (with the exception of the music) director Burns’s fault. It’s also pretty darn great; again, all Burns’s fault.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Frank Prinzi; edited by Susan Graef; music by Joe Delia; production designer, Thérèse DePrez; produced by Ted Hope, Michael Nozik, and Burns; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Lauren Holly (Claudia), Edward Burns (Charlie), Jon Bon Jovi (Michael), Connie Britton (Kelly), Blythe Danner (Claudia’s Mom), Nick Sandow (Goldie), Jennifer Esposito (Teresa), Welker White (Missy), John Ventimiglia (Tony the Pizza Guy), and Kathleen Doyle (Mrs. Ryan).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | EDWARD BURNS.

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Shallow Grave (1994, Danny Boyle)

Shallow Grave has bold colors. The production design–by Kave Quinn–isn’t particularly good. Over ninety percent of the film takes place in a rather boring apartment. But that boring apartment has a lot of bold colors. Sure, photographer Brian Tufano doesn’t know how to shoot those bold colors to make them effective, but he doesn’t know how to light any of the other scenes either. Grave is slick and economical, but no one–not the actors, not director Boyle, certainly not writer John Hodge–ever makes it feel particularly creative. It’s got a low budget so they shoot it like a play. With occasionally interesting, but inert, visuals.

As far as the actors, of the three principals–Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston–only McGregor shows any life. None of them have much character depth to work with, which obviously doesn’t help. Eccleston eventually gets the biggest part of the film, but he’s so poorly handled through the first act, he doesn’t do anything interesting. It’s not his fault, there’s just nothing interesting in that script of Hodges’s.

The film, ostensibly a thriller, is often tedious. The script has some funny dialogue exchanges–the trio live in that boldly color apartment and mock prospective tenants they do not like–but not enough to even temporarily disguise the logic holes.

Boyle’s composition is often excellent and Masahiro Hirakubo’s editing is outstanding. But there’s just not enough to the film. It’s trite, cynical, forcibly amusing. Grave’s one controlled misstep after another.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; written by John Hodge; director of photography, Brian Tufano; edited by Masahiro Hirakubo; music by Simon Boswell; production designer, Kave Quinn; produced by Andrew Macdonald; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Kerry Fox (Juliet Miller), Christopher Eccleston (David Stephens), Ewan McGregor (Alex Law), Ken Stott (Detective Inspector McCall), Keith Allen (Hugo), Peter Mullan (Andy), Leonard O’Malley (Tim) and Colin McCredie (Cameron).


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Fargo (1996, Joel Coen)

Much–probably most–of Fargo is exceptional. The Coens take over half an hour to bring their protagonist into the movie. They spend that first half hour with the villains, even having time to make said villains simultaneously lovable and even more dangerous. William H. Macy isn’t just some loser who schemes to rip off his father-in-law, he’s a dangerous sociopath. It’s amazing what the Coens can fit behind those goofy accents and the folky talk.

And those levels of Fargo are what make it so fantastic. Frances McDormand isn’t playing a silly sheriff, she’s playing this incredible investigator who just happens to sound like she lives in a waffle commercial. All of the police work in the film is thoroughly executed; the cops aren’t of the Keystone variety.

But the Coens don’t engage with this situation. They don’t force the viewer. They don’t even acknowledge it. They’re playing it straight.

Until the end. McDormand stumbles across the bad guys by accident. Even worse, there was a plot point earlier to set up an actual investigatory discovery of the bad guys and the Coens skip it. Very disappointing.

Otherwise, the film is fantastic. Great photography from Roger Deakins, wonderful score from Carter Burwell. Fargo speeds along too. There’s never a slow moment.

The supporting cast–Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, Peter Stormare, John Carroll Lynch–is great. Buscemi has some exceptional rants throughout.

McDormand and Macy are both excellent. McDormand even manages to sell the questionable stuff at the end.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Coen; written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Roderick Jaynes; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Ethan Coen; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Frances McDormand (Marge Gunderson), William H. Macy (Jerry Lundegaard), Steve Buscemi (Carl Showalter), Harve Presnell (Wade Gustafson), Peter Stormare (Gaear Grimsrud), Kristin Rudrüd (Jean Lundegaard), John Carroll Lynch (Norm Gunderson) and Steve Park (Mike Yanagita).


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Bean (1997, Mel Smith)

I’m trying to imagine how Bean would play to someone unfamiliar with the television show. Depending on one’s tolerance for bland family comedy-dramas, it might actually play better. Because Bean, the movie, removes a lot of Bean, Rowan Atkinson’s character, and instead fills the time with Peter MacNicol and his problems.

His job is on the line and his wife of presumably sixteen plus years has decided their marriage is on the rocks because of those problems with his job. Pamela Reed plays the wife and she’s exceptionally unsympathetic in her anger. Screenwriters Richard Curtis and Robin Driscoll don’t just do a hatch job with the characterizations, they keep it going and going.

Some of the problem is director Mel Smith. He resists ever shooting the film from Atkinson’s perspective, except in the longer slapstick sequences, but he also doesn’t direct the film around him well. Harris Yulin especially stumbles around looking for direction. The supporting cast is mostly indistinct, though Burt Reynolds gets a smile or two and Larry Drake gets an actual laugh.

With all the celebrity cameos, Bean should feel bigger. But Smith doesn’t know how to direct it big. Or small. Until the ludicrous finish, the script’s tolerable. Tepid, but tolerable. The finish is atrocious though.

So why’s Bean all right, even with the finish? Because Atkinson is really, really funny and he never acts like there’s anything wrong with the film. He’s fully committed, even though his character’s constantly changing.

The film shamefully fails him.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Mel Smith; screenplay by Richard Curtis and Robin Driscoll, based on characters created by Rowan Atkinson and Curtis; director of photography, Francis Kenny; edited by Chris Blunden; music by Howard Goodall; production designer, Peter S. Larkin; produced by Peter Bennett-Jones, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), Peter MacNicol (David Langley), Pamela Reed (Alison Langley), Harris Yulin (George Grierson), Burt Reynolds (General Newton), Larry Drake (Elmer), Chris Ellis (Det. Butler), Johnny Galecki (Stingo Wheelie), Richard Gant (Lt. Brutus), Danny Goldring (Security Buck), Andrew Lawrence (Kevin Langley), Tom McGowan (Walter Merchandise), Sandra Oh (Bernice Schimmel), Tricia Vessey (Jennifer Langley) and John Mills (Chairman).


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