Tag Archives: Ron Leibman

Slaughterhouse-Five (1972, George Roy Hill)

When Slaughterhouse-Five is just about World War II, director Hill can handle it. He doesn’t understand the humor, but he can handle it. The script doesn’t understand its own humor, as screenwriter Stephen Geller tries to force his own sense of humor on the source material, but Hill just makes it worse. Especially when he’s got an actor like Ron Leibman going wild with his role.

Leibman gets the joke. Hill doesn’t. Hill has an incredibly big problem with Slaughterhouse-Five, he can’t figure out how to be serious about it. He can be showy about it, but he can’t be serious about it. Not serious enough because he can’t embrace the fantastical nature of the source material. Hill can’t buy in; the script doesn’t help on this one either, but Hill can’t buy in. Like the book says, so it goes.

As a result, the World War II sequences–set to beautiful Glenn Gould music, featuring this desolate Miroslav Ondrícek photography, with Dede Allen’s sublime cuts–oh, and star Michael Sacks walking around like a complete doofus. Apparently, someone important was real set on Sacks as the lead in the film, because there’s no other explanation why they didn’t get someone better. Sacks doesn’t have a part in the script. He’s an enigma. Hill avoids giving him speaking shots in close-up, so he’s mostly just observing. Again, enigma. But since Hill can’t seem to shoot the script, he’s fuddling with the actors too. Sacks gets nothing from Hill. Not a thing. It’s incredible. As soon as the opening titles are done, Hill’s giving the movie away to the supporting cast.

For a while that approach almost works. Handing the movie off to a better actor than Sacks, who spends half the film in World War II and half the film in old age make-up and in the present day. Only some of the present day stuff is flashback too, with its own younger old age make-up.

It’s bad make-up. Ondrícek doesn’t shoot it, or the special effects, well. So it looks like a joke, which certainly doesn’t seem to be what anyone’s going for, but no one’s in much agreement. And Sacks should be pulled in all directions by this indecision; only he’s so bland, he’s unaffected. It’s kind of incredible, the lead actor’s performance unaffected by disaster.

Only in such a good production–save the special effects, Slaughterhouse-Five is a fine production. It’s just not a good movie. Not as a strict adaptation or a loose one. Hill and company end going for something safe, some ironic camp. When the film gets to its abrupt finish, where–theoretically–one might want Sacks to have gone through some kind of change, if not internally than at least in relation to the others or the audience, but no… Hill never lets the film head in that direction. Questions are down that path. Slaughterhouse-Five doesn’t want to raise any of those.

Slaughterhouse-Five is a contemporary adaptation of controversial breakout bestseller, it’s inherently mercenary. Hill doesn’t want to try to mimic the book’s controversies, so he tries to distract from his avoidance of them. Don’t look at the stunning lack of ambition, let’s all laugh at Sharon Gans being reduced to a joke about her weight. Time and again, even though she starts the film stronger than Sacks; the film cuts to their wedding night and Gans immediately overpowers Sacks. And Hill doesn’t seem to care and Sacks doesn’t notice because his performance would have to change, which it doesn’t.

Ever.

So, Gans never gets her due. When Valerie Perrine comes in, Hill and Geller set her up to be some great presence, but she’s not either. Because she’s not set in the World War II stuff. Everything present in Slaughterhouse-Five flops, with the exception of some of Gans’s performance… and nothing else. Nothing else works in the present.

Eugene Roche is great as Sacks’s mentor in World War II. Leibman’s great. The script’s not good but the actors still get through and the plot’s good. It’s just building towards the Dresden bombing. Hill can handle that kind of narrative progression.

It’s all the rest of it he can’t handle.

Sacks doesn’t add anything–he’s not maliciously being bad, he’s just moping. Malice would require something no one is willing to give Sacks–personality.

Some gorgeous filmmaking though. In the World War II parts, usually when not involving lots of dialogue because the dialogue gives Hill problems. Again, not the actors, just Hill. So not the talky parts. Unless it’s Roche.

Slaughterhouse-Five is too professionally competent to be unbearable. It’s just abjectly without ambition.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by George Roy Hill; screenplay by Stephen Geller, based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.; director of photography, Miroslav Ondrícek; edited by Dede Allen; music by Glenn Gould; production designer, Henry Bumstead; produced by Paul Monash; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Sacks (Billy Pilgrim), Ron Leibman (Paul Lazzaro), Eugene Roche (Edgar Derby), Sharon Gans (Valencia Merble Pilgrim), Valerie Perrine (Montana Wildhack), Holly Near (Barbara Pilgrim), Perry King (Robert Pilgrim), and Kevin Conway (Roland Weary).


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Rhinestone (1984, Bob Clark)

With the exception of Dolly Parton, everyone involved with Rhinestone seems nervous. Well, maybe not Richard Farnsworth. He seems impatient, like he can’t wait for his scene to be over. Top-billed Sylvester Stallone spends the first half of the film trying too hard, seems to relax, then finishes the film not trying hard enough. It’s like Stallone resents the stupid stuff he’s got to do but then he’s no good at the serious stuff either. Sure, he’s got terrible dialogue, which he wrote for himself (along with whatever remains of Phil Alden Robinson’s original script), but he’s still not acting well. He’s acting poorly.

When does he act well? During the ten or fifteen minutes when he’s a greased up romantic lead in some weirdly racy, somewhat wholesome perfume commercial with Parton. The film looks different too, like director Clark and cinematographer Timothy Galfas were just pretending to be wholly incompetent and they were really just pacing out this eventual payoff. Sadly, editors Stan Cole and John W. Wheeler don’t improve during this section of the film. They’re bad throughout.

While Parton isn’t good–it’s not possible to be good in Rhinestone–she’s earnest and she’s capable. She takes her job seriously, which is probably why her original songs for the film are good. Rhinestone should, frighteningly, be better. Even with Stallone, it should be better. The movie isn’t Rocky with country music, it’s Stallone doing a “Barbarino” impression with country music. If it were Rocky with country music, it’d be a lot better.

The problem is the tone. Clark wants to take it seriously. He wants to take Stallone as a country western star who dresses in an incredibly lame silver sequined cowboy outfit. Sylvester Stallone as a successful country western star is not possible. It’s just not. More idiotically, the film itself doesn’t take that idea seriously.

There’s one music number I resent myself for liking and Tim Thomerson’s amusing, though not good (he’s nervous but trying to get past it). Parton’s got a lot of presence and she and Stallone actually have what appears to be chemistry, if a lot more platonic than the narrative requires, but it’s not like she makes it worthwhile. She just doesn’t embarrass herself. Everyone else embarrasses themselves at some point or another.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Clark; screenplay by Phil Alden Robinson and Sylvester Stallone, based on a story by Robinson; director of photography, Timothy Galfas; edited by Stan Cole and John W. Wheeler; music by Dolly Parton and Mike Post; production designer, Robert F. Boyle; produced by Howard Smith and Marvin Worth; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dolly Parton (Jake), Sylvester Stallone (Nick), Tim Thomerson (Barnett Kale), Richard Farnsworth (Mr. Farris), Steve Peck (Mr. Martinelli), Penny Santon (Mrs. Martinelli) and Ron Leibman (Freddie Ugo).


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