Tag Archives: Richard Masur

Shoot to Kill (1988, Roger Spottiswoode)

Shoot to Kill is an exceptionally bland action thriller. It shouldn’t be bland–there’s a decent concept to it. Kirstie Alley is a wilderness guide, cut off from the outside world, and one of her obnoxious fly-fishing white male character actors is secretly a killer. Who will it be? Richard Masur? Clancy Brown? Andy Robinson?

Unfortunately, Shoot has almost nothing to with Robinson, Brown, Masur or even Alley. It’s all about Sidney Poitier and Tom Berenger out to save Alley and stop the unknown killer. Berenger’s a rugged mountain man, Poitier’s a street smart FBI agent. Only neither of them ever gets to exhibit their skills. They both bumble because it perturbs the plot and creates opportunities for drama. Director Spottiswoode captures that drama in the blandest way possible, composing his Panavision frame for eventual VHS pan and scanning. Shoot to Kill is one of those eighties action movies so ineptly directed–with Spottiswoode wasting Michael Chapman’s photography–it probably plays better on an eleven-inch, standard definition television.

With commercial breaks.

It does seem like it should be better though. Poitier and Berenger certainly seem respectable and, to some extent, they are. They just don’t have characters to play. Alley’s the most convincing just because she’s able to suggest her character’s relationship with Berenger, even though they don’t have any establishing scenes.

And Poitier’s in trouble right from the start. He’s got this huge FBI stand-off at the beginning and it does nothing to establish his character as anything but a sensitive, hard-working bumbler. At least when Berenger bumbles, he falls off a mountain or something. Not Poitier. He just screws something up and Spottiswoode doesn’t go for a reaction shot because Poitier can’t be self-aware or the script doesn’t work.

Though the script–from Harv Zimmel, Michael Burton and Daniel Petrie Jr.–rarely works. For its better moments, Shoot to Kill gets away with it because (even though Spottiswoode wastes them) it has good locations, whether the mountains or Vancouver. Standing in for Vancouver. The San Francisco stuff doesn’t work out.

Bad music from John Scott doesn’t help anything.

The cast, misdirected and occasionally miscast, is professional. They make the film nearly tolerable, until it collapses. Even when an action set piece should be good, Spottiswoode screws it up. It’s not really his fault in some ways; the whole thing is misguided and poorly produced.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Spottiswoode; screenplay by Harv Zimmel, Michael Burton and Daniel Petrie Jr., based on a story by Zimmel; director of photography, Michael Chapman; edited by George Bowers and Garth Craven; music by John Scott; production designer, Richard Sylbert; produced by Ron Silverman and Petrie; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Sidney Poitier (Warren Stantin), Tom Berenger (Jonathan Knox), Kirstie Alley (Sarah Rennell), Clancy Brown (Steve), Frederick Coffin (Ralph), Richard Masur (Norman), Andrew Robinson (Harvey), Kevin Scannell (Ben), Michael MacRae (Fournier), Milton Selzer (Mr. Berger), Les Lannom (Sheriff Arnett), Robert Lesser (Minelli) and Walter Marsh (Sam Baker).


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My Science Project (1985, Jonathan R. Betuel)

It’s hard to say what’s worse in My Science Project, Beutel’s lame characters or his direction of the actors playing those roles. And I’m not counting Dennis Hopper, who plays an ex-hippie in the picture. While Hopper certainly has a poorly written character and Beutel’s direction of him is bad… it was Hopper’s decision to play a caricature of himself. I’ll give Beutel a pass for that one.

But Fisher Stevens (as a television trivia obsessed Brooklyn “greaseball”), Raphael Sbarge (an overweight–the padding is visible–nerd) and Richard Masur (a cowboy detective)? Beutel doesn’t just have dumb ideas, he’s also incapable of executing them.

Science Project also suffers from a lack of plot. High school senior John Stockwell discovers an alien gadget and complications ensue, including a time warp with future mutants, a surprisingly competent dinosaur and a damsel in distress. But there’s no drama to the plot. Beutel just throws in things he’d seen in other movies and relies on Fisher’s bad jokes to make the film palatable.

The damsel, played by Danielle von Zerneck, and Stockwell actually have a fairly decent romance. Though one wonders if Beutel ever actually attended high school, given the absurdities of the one in Science Project.

Von Zerneck’s always good, even when the script’s bad, and Stockwell’s best in his scenes with her. The final third lacks their chemistry and the film suffers.

Beutel’s composition is competently unoriginal. Peter Bernstein’s music helps.

But Beutel’s Science Project still fails (sorry, couldn’t resist).

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jonathan R. Betuel; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by Carroll Timothy O’Meara; music by Peter Bernstein; production designer, David L. Snyder; produced by Jonathan T. Taplin; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring John Stockwell (Michael Harlan), Danielle von Zerneck (Ellie Sawyer), Fisher Stevens (Vince Latello), Raphael Sbarge (Sherman), Richard Masur (Detective Isadore Nulty), Barry Corbin (Lew Harlan), Ann Wedgeworth (Dolores) and Dennis Hopper (Bob Roberts).


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The Thing (1982, John Carpenter)

I always say John Carpenter needs to direct something else, something non-genre. A romantic comedy perhaps or a family drama. I guess it never occurred to me, but with The Thing, Carpenter is directing something else. It’s kind of too bad, his best film is the one–in some ways–least like his others. In The Thing, Carpenter maintains his exquisite (there’s really no other word for it) Panavision composition, but he introduces a couple new elements. First, the suspense angle. It could just be Ennio Morricone’s score, but Carpenter takes a far more Hitchcockian approach to suspense in The Thing than he’s done before or since. I watched the film with my wife, who’d seen some of it, but forgot the dog’s importance, so I watched it with that first time experience in the back of my head (I guess with The Thing, which I’ve only seen six or seven times, it’s still possible). Carpenter doesn’t offer any hints, just makes almost everything suspicious (except Kurt Russell–does that make him Jimmy Stewart?). That suspense goes on for over an hour, even after the story revelations, until the beautiful blood test scene.

The blood test scene is probably the best example of the second element (like the segue?). The quietness. The fade-outs. The Thing‘s script, just due to the limited locations, inevitably reminds of a play, but one with an excellent adaptation. Carpenter’s infrequent (I think there are around six) fade-outs, which sometimes emphasize, sometimes silence, are kind of peculiar for him. He’s not known for his gentleness, but with the exception of the special effects sequences and some (not all) of the arguments, The Thing is an incredible gentle film. In some respects, it’s even passive. This second element is the parts working for the whole–Carpenter’s composition, Dean Cundey’s photography, the script, Todd C. Ramsay’s editing–it all comes together in these parts and makes The Thing something different.

As for the actors, who I haven’t mentioned. The Thing is one of those perfectly cast films where it’s pointless to go through and list all the good actors because they’re all good. They’re all perfect, no one else could do a better job in the film’s roles. For Russell, it’s a solid leading man role, but one of those special leading man roles where he’s leading others. He manages to command attention, even though the character’s rather understated. Other singular performances, Richard Dysart, Keith David, Donald Moffat and Thomas G. Waites. Dysart has a lot of screen time in the beginning and is great for all of it. David’s–I have no idea what his job is in the film–a perfect foil for Russell. Moffat and Waites both have small outstanding moments in their otherwise good performances.

Carpenter’s made a lot of great films and he’s made a few of cinematic importance, but The Thing is the one of the greatest artistic importance. It’s something totally different (and totally ignored–I’ll never forget seeing it as a fourteen-year-old after reading Leonard Maltin’s one-and-a-half star dismissive capsule), not just from what Carpenter tends to make, but from Hollywood films and genre films as well. By not rambling on in exposition until the details make some kind of sense (I just discovered overexplain is not a real word), which is a serious genre pitfall, The Thing is sublime.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by Bill Lancaster, based on novella by John W. Campbell Jr.; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Todd C. Ramsay; music by Ennio Morricone; production designer, John J. Lloyd; produced by David Foster and Lawrence Turman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (MacReady), Wilford Brimley (Blair), T.K. Carter (Nauls), David Clennon (Palmer), Keith David (Childs), Richard Dysart (Copper), Charles Hallahan (Norris), Peter Maloney (Bennings), Richard Masur (Clark), Donald Moffat (Garry), Joel Polis (Fuchs) and Thomas G. Waites (Windows).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | JOHN CARPENTER, PART 2: THE STUDIO QUARTET.