Tag Archives: Robert Picardo

Bates Motel (1987, Richard Rothstein)

Bates Motel is one of those “has to be seen to be believed (but isn’t worth spending any time on)” movies. It’s even better because it’s a late eighties TV movie slash pilot with a lot of contemporary television personalities guest starring, “Love Boat”-style. But it’s also a sequel to Psycho.

It’s also a complete mess of all those elements.

First, there’s lead Bud Cort. Having grown-up in the eighties and nineties, I eventually heard of Bates Motel, but I thought it was about Cort being this creepy motel manager and Jason Bateman being his assistant, possible victim, young adult lead. Like a mystery show.

Nope.

Bates Motel is about how Robert Picardo, in a high contrast, black and white flashback, gives just institutionalized Norman Bates a friend. It’s ludicrous, but writer Richard Rothstein really runs with it. And since he also directed the Motel, he’s always very nostalgic for Norman. Cort carries an urn with his ashes around the entire movie.

It’s nuts. Only it’s saccharine. Because Bates Motel, which actually does a Scooby-Doo reveal at the end, isn’t about being scary. It’s about being life affirming. Rothstein writes it for the commercial breaks; the break provides some transition, whether in the present action or just in Cort all of a sudden becoming the protagonist instead of a possible psychopath. Then Lori Petty shows up and everything goes crazy in a different direction.

Both Cort and Petty are bad, but Petty’s doing a schtick. She’s trying to sell herself (or the network is trying to sell her) and she doesn’t do a bad job of being calculated and commercial. As far as her terribly-written part? Well, no, she doesn’t do much with it. She’s unlikable, but better than Cort. And still bad.

Even Moses Gunn is bad, but in his case it’s because Rothstein can’t stage a scene. Bill Butler’s photography is actually pretty good too. Bates Motel isn’t cheap (I had always assumed it was cheap, it isn’t); it has good production values. It just has a crap script, crap direction and crap acting.

Except from Khrystyne Haje. Against all odds, she’s good. Jason Bateman, who has no scenes with Cort, is terrible. As the primary “Love Boat” guest star, the one in need of life affirming, Kerrie Keane is bad. You want to like her, but you can’t. I guess she does earn some pity, but it’s for being in the movie.

The super sweet music from J. Peter Robinson just makes it even more of an awkward, unpleasant misfire. However, it’s hard not to watch the first act, as Motel desperately tries to engage a vague franchise awareness with its viewer, and see it as a proto-franchise reboot.

Bates Motel is, just as I always thought, a piece of crap. The only surprise–besides Haje being good and Petty being worse than expected–has to be Cort. I expected to have sympathy for him being wasted in this crappy TV movie knock-off Psycho, but I didn’t. His performance is so distant, so cocky-eyed, it’s like I’d never seen him before and had no attachment (big problem for a TV pilot, incidentally). Rothstein can’t do anything right, not even cast Harold as a socially isolated, middle-aged man intrigued with death.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Rothstein; teleplay by Rothstein, suggested by a novel by Robert Bloch; director of photography, Bill Butler; edited by Dann Cahn; music by J. Peter Robinson; production designer, Robb Wilson King; produced by George Linder and Ken Topolsky; aired by NBC.

Starring Bud Cort (Alex West), Lori Petty (Willie), Kerrie Keane (Barbara Peters), Gregg Henry (Tom Fuller), Robert Picardo (Dr. Goodman), Moses Gunn (Henry Watson), Jason Bateman (Tony Scotti), Khrystyne Haje (Sally), Lee de Broux (Sheriff) and Kurt Paul (Norman Bates).


RELATED

Advertisements

Innerspace (1987, Joe Dante)

It’s always a surprise when I remember Innerspace wasn’t a hit (it was also the first movie I ever saw as a letterboxed VHS–it was letterbox only). It’s easily Dante’s most populist work–I don’t think a single Dante “touch,” except for Dick Miller, shows up in the film until the appearance of Kevin McCarthy. Before, it’s all general action comedy sci-fi stuff.

Martin Short quickly establishes himself as essential to the film (his first scene comes a little bit earlier than the narrative needs him to be introduced). He shows up right before Dennis Quaid gets miniaturized, but that sequence is relatively long and detailed. Dante doesn’t worry about giving the audience a lot of immediate information, which might have been another problem.

Once Quaid and Short do get together, Innerspace moves without any slowing. When there is a scene–between Short and Meg Ryan–about taking a breather, it gets interrupted. It’s never a forced pace. In a lot of ways, Innerspace has Dante’s most professional direction. He never goes wild, but he never even hints at a misstep.

Short’s outstanding, Quaid and Ryan are both good.

Great Jerry Goldsmith score too.

Dante’s completely–and, unfortunately, wrongly–confident an audience will be comfortable with so many genres mixing at once. Until the end, there’s not a single sci-fi oriented action sequence–there’s lots of action comedy scenes, as it would be impossible to take Short seriously during any of them.

It’s one of Dante’s best.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; screenplay by Jeffrey Boam and Chip Proser, based on a story by Proser; director of photography, Andrew Laszlo; edited by Kent Beyda; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, James H. Spencer; produced by Michael Finnell; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Lt. Tuck Pendleton), Martin Short (Jack Putter), Meg Ryan (Lydia Maxwell), Kevin McCarthy (Victor Eugene Scrimshaw), Fiona Lewis (Dr. Margaret Canker), Vernon Wells (Mr. Igoe), Robert Picardo (The Cowboy), Wendy Schaal (Wendy), Harold Sylvester (Pete Blanchard), William Schallert (Dr. Greenbush), Henry Gibson (Mr. Wormwood), John Hora (Ozzie Wexler), Mark L. Taylor (Dr. Niles) and Kevin Hooks (Duane).


RELATED

The Howling (1981, Joe Dante)

All due respect to Rick Baker, but Rob Bottin’s werewolf transformation in The Howling is superior. The transformation lasts so long it’s no longer shocking, just interesting. It’s so deliberate, it got me wondering what the werewolf would do if he needed to change in a pinch… if he didn’t have three or four minutes to spare.

The Howling is actually a really peculiar movie, both technically and in terms of plotting.

It is, possibly, Joe Dante’s straightest work. He’s making a regular picture here, with newsroom stuff, with cop stuff. It’s different from anything else I’ve seen of his–when Belinda Balaski is running from a werewolf, he handles it without any humor. It’s beautiful direction, even if there is a strange animated shot at one point (which makes little sense, because there’s some fine stop motion at the end, so why didn’t they just use it earlier too).

But The Howling is actually full of humor. The last shot of the film is a hamburger cooking, it’s goofy. There are constant, omnipresent references to werewolf films–there are ten characters named after werewolf movie directors–there’s a clip from The Wolf Man, there’s even a picture of Lon Chaney hanging on a wall–in story. But these references are somehow detached from the rather serious and straightforward way Dante tells the story. He’s got Kevin McCarthy giving a straight performance–Kevin McCarthy giving a straight performance in a Joe Dante film. It’s incredible.

Where The Howling gets in trouble is Dee Wallace. It isn’t just her performance, which is okay (though she’s never quite believable as a go-getter anchorwoman), but the way John Sayles’s script treats her. The concept–reporter discovers her elite psychiatric resort is really a colony of werewolves–really seems to imply she ought to be the main character. But she isn’t. She isn’t even the first to discover the werewolves. She isn’t even the second… wait, yes, she is. She is the second.

But Sayles avoids giving Wallace much to do and the film suffers for it. There are big plot holes–for example, it’s never explained why Wallace is invited to the werewolf club. It’s also never explained why her husband–played by Wallace’s real-life husband, Christopher Stone–accompanies her.

No, where Sayles finds the most interest–and maybe Dante too–is with Dennis Dugan (yes, Dennis Dugan) and Balaski. Both of them are fantastic, full of chemistry, having a great time, as TV news producers investigating. Their scenes are wonderful–they get the Dick Miller scene and it’s a doozy–and the film comes alive whenever either are onscreen.

The Howling also skirts around being particularly disturbing. Wallace is having real psychological problems, occasionally represented onscreen as dream sequences, but it’s hard to imagine her having a really hard time. Her basic recovery is just too fast.

There’s some good acting from John Carradine and Slim Pickens. Patrick Macnee has less to do than Wallace, if it’s even possible. Stone leaves a lot to be desired… Robert Picardo’s got a small part and he’s fantastic.

What’s nicest about the film is the way it gets so much better in the last third. The first act and most of the second invite all these questions, all this thinking–the last act doesn’t bother with it, but still manages to close with a great scene. Unfortunately, it isn’t the last scene in the film, just the last scene in the narrative. The final scene’s a misstep, because The Howling spends so much time as a rather quiet movie about people, only to go with a big comic finish.

It’s nice for a film to take its entire running time to impress (or close to it–the last shot’s awesome, but it’s a diversion from dealing with the emotional aftereffects of the previous scene); makes the viewing experience all the more rewarding (and somehow exciting).

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; screenplay by John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless, based on the novel by Gary Brandner; director of photography, John Hora; edited by Dante and Mark Goldblatt; music by Pino Donaggio; produced by Jack Conrad and Michael Finnell; released by AVCO Embassy Pictures.

Starring Dee Wallace (Karen White), Patrick Macnee (Dr. George Waggner), Dennis Dugan (Chris), Christopher Stone (Bill Neill), Belinda Balaski (Terry Fisher), Kevin McCarthy (Fred Francis), John Carradine (Erle Kenton), Slim Pickens (Sam Newfield), Elisabeth Brooks (Marsha Quist), Robert Picardo (Eddie Quist), Margie Impert (Donna), Noble Willingham (Charlie Barton), James Murtaugh (Jerry Warren), Jim McKrell (Lew Landers), Don McLeod (T.C. Quist) and Dick Miller (Walter Paisley).


RELATED

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990, Joe Dante)

Gremlins 2 might be one of the more absurdly funny films ever made. Much of it relies on the viewer laughing at him or herself laughing at the film. My wife claims her occasional giggles were in response to my laughter, not the film itself. I just read Dante wanted it to be a spoof of itself, of the idea of a Gremlins 2 and it’s incredibly successful.

The film is very much a product of its time. There are Die Hard references (both in the film, with Gizmo heading into a duct, and out–the single setting of an office high rise), there are references to classic films, there are references to not so classic films. Where Gremlins 2 is particularly strange is in the corporate branding. Besides the Looney Tunes opening–to celebrate Warner’s anniversary–there’s a big Batman reference and then the Warner Bros. logo shows up tattooed to a Gremlin. It’s strange, but I guess Warner really did establish itself differently back then (I still remember the Warner Bros. store catalogs with their Batman, Gremlins 2 and “Murphy Brown” goodies).

It all combines to make the film a strange experience, since movies dedicated to making the viewer laugh out loud–not just smile–are difficult. But Gremlins 2 takes it a step further, practically requiring moderate film literacy.

The film relies heavily on its actors–John Glover being the most outright fantastic. Glover doesn’t do a Donald Trump imitation (his character’s a mix of Trump and Ted Turner), instead just goes crazy in a way only he can–one of Glover’s best scenes is one of his simplest. He walks around his office, bored, until he decides it’d be fun to do a memo. It’s great.

The rest of the supporting cast–Robert Prosky, Christopher Lee, Dick Miller, Gedde Watanabe and especially Robert Picardo–are excellent as well. Only Haviland Morris, with an over-affected performance, is lacking. Zach Galligan, who starts out more in the center, is good… even as his character takes a backseat to the wacky Gremlins. Phoebe Cates has a few good scenes, but she’s absent even more than Galligan. They literally get her lost in the building and forget about her.

One of Dante’s great achievements with this film is his handling of the sets. He directs the chaos in the hallway scenes like it’s an old B picture, but these scenes match perfectly with the rest. The exterior scenes–Galligan and Cates walking home, Miller fighting the flying Gremlin outside–all look exceptional. But those interior scenes are even better. Then, with the musical number at the end, Dante makes Gremlins 2 into the greatest Muppet movie (on acid) ever.

The script’s good a lot of great one liners, but what really sets it apart is when Cates is telling a Gremlin-to-be to be careful around the kitchen, she and Galligan don’t have the money to replace broken appliances. It’s a strange, wonderful detail and just makes Gremlins 2 more singular.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; screenplay by Charles S. Haas, based on characters by Chris Columbus; director of photography, John Hora; edited by Kent Beyda; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, James H. Spencer; produced by Michael Finnell; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Zach Galligan (Billy Peltzer), Phoebe Cates (Kate Beringer), John Glover (Daniel Clamp), Robert Prosky (Grandpa Fred), Robert Picardo (Forster), Christopher Lee (Doctor Catheter), Haviland Morris (Marla Bloodstone), Dick Miller (Murray Futterman), Jackie Joseph (Sheila Futterman), Gedde Watanabe (Mr. Katsuji) and Keye Luke (Mr. Wing).


RELATED