Tag Archives: Stuart Margolin

Futureworld (1976, Richard T. Heffron)

Futureworld ends with a ten minute chase sequence. It feels like thirty. The movie runs 107 boring minutes and I really did think thirty of them were spent on Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner battling evil robots. And not even Danner. Fonda. Just Peter Fonda running around giant underground maintenance rooms.

Fonda and Danner play reporters on special assignment to cover the revamped Delos resort. A few years earlier–in Westworld–all the humanoid robots went crazy and killed guests. Fonda wrote the expose on it. Danner is the TV newswoman who used to work for Fonda and he fired for not being newsy enough. He calls her “Socks.” The film is one long diss to Danner. It gets worse as it goes along; the “Socks” thing takes a while to get introduced and then the script uses it every sixteenth word.

Neither Fonda nor Danner appeared in the first film. The only returning actor is Yul Brynner, who appears more in footage from Westworld than he does in Futureworld footage. Behind the camera, composer Fred Karlin and cinematographer Gene Polito (sharing credit this time with Howard Schwartz) both return. Karlin’s score is godawful. Polito and Schwartz’s photography is adequate. It’s not their fault the movie’s a bore.

Mayo Simon and George Schenck don’t have much of a story. Fonda suspects something is wrong at the reopened resort, Danner doesn’t. Company man Arthur Hill assures them everything is fine. But mad scientist John P. Ryan is actually doing bad things. It’s unclear for a while what the bad things are, but they’re bad in the montage sequences so they must be bad. There are a lot of montage sequences in the first half of Futureworld. It’s scene, montage, scene, montage. It seems budgetary–get to the exposition sequences as fast as possible, skipping any action sequences.

It helps Futureworld (the resort) only shows up in the first third of the movie. It’s a cheesy futuristic bar with holographic chess a year before it got to a galaxy far far away. It’s silly, but not fun. Because Futureworld isn’t any fun. Director Heffron plays it all straight, something Fonda can’t do and Danner seems unclear about.

Fonda is not good. It’s not entirely his fault, his character spends the beginning of the second act devolved into an even more patronizing jackass (to Danner) than before. The situation changes when Stuart Margolin shows up. He knows the dirt on the robots (or something). It’s a terribly paced, poorly written sequence. But Margolin’s at least likable.

Danner’s kind of sympathetic. Not her character, because she doesn’t have on, but Danner. You feel for her being in this movie. Towards the end, you sort of assume Fonda agreed to do it stoned but why did Danner agree. She should’ve fired her agent. Especially since the movie ought to be a relative no-brainer.

Killer future robots instead of killer Western robots.

But there isn’t much robot action in Futureworld; though the script fixates on the possibilities of robot sex in the first act. It’s not really a thing afterwards, even when there’s robot sex. That robot sex features one of the only two robots in the second half of the movie (of consequence).

The script does a lot to increase its efficiency (like taking place entirely underground–or on obvious sets–in the second half). With a better script, better production, better director, better actor (no script was going to make Fonda’s performance better, he’s a miscasting epitome), Futureworld might be able to work.

Instead, it’s a dull attempt at cheap “intellectual sci-fi.” It’s long, goofy, and never professional enough to take seriously. It’s strange Westworld creator Michael Crichton gets zero credit on the film, but reasonable. Who’d want their name on it?

Though, heavy John P. Ryan as a subdued bad guy scientist is at least interesting to watch. The material’s all bad, but Ryan’s a strange enough casting choice seeing how he essays it… it’s mildly diverting. As opposed to Hill, who eventually gets some Danner-esque sympathy. Not as much, but some.

Futureworld’s bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Richard T. Heffron; screenplay by Mayo Simon and George Schenck, based on characters created by Michael Crichton; directors of photography, Howard Schwartz and Gene Polito; edited by James Mitchell; music by Fred Karlin; produced by James T. Aubrey and Paul N. Lazarus III; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Peter Fonda (Chuck Browning), Blythe Danner (Tracy Ballard), Arthur Hill (Duffy), John P. Ryan (Dr. Schneider), Stuart Margolin (Harry), Jim Antonio (Ron Thurlow),and Yul Brynner (The Gunslinger).


RELATED

Advertisements

Days of Heaven (1978, Terrence Malick)

According to John Travolta (who was originally cast and probably wasn’t just making it up–as it was pre-Battlefield Earth and he was still somewhat legitimate), when ABC wouldn’t let him out of his “Welcome Back, Kotter” contract, Malick was forced to cast Richard Gere and shredded the majority of Days of Heaven‘s screenplay, instead going with a far more lyrical approach. It’s so lyrical–and here’s why I believe Travolta–Malick frequently mutes out Gere’s dialogue. Given how terrible Gere’s performance–there aren’t any good performances from the film’s principals–it’s a blessing. But Gere still doesn’t act well on mute.

Days of Heaven is a complete mess. It’s a gorgeous film, but it feels like watching a movie on late night television, falling asleep for some of it, waking up, some of the dialogue getting incorporated into the catnap dreams. I haven’t seen it in ten years, but I’m really glad I didn’t go out and buy the new Criterion release, because there’s hardly anything to see here.

It’s clear–from the opening titles no less–Malick made this film in the editing room. There’s some obviously ad-libbed material, which tends to be poor–the film’s final scene, with Jackie Shultis visibly grasping for something, breaks the camel’s back. Malick gets a good performance out of Robert J. Wilke, but he’s about it. The rest seem like they’re being put in front of the camera without knowing what do to–and they didn’t. Malick shot “miles of film,” intending to figure out what to do with it in post-production. He didn’t hire actors capable of working in such a manner–Gere’s a joke in this film, it’s impossible to imagine, seeing Days of Heaven, he’d ever turn in reasonable work. Brooke Adams is better, but doesn’t seem aware her character is a bad person. Days of Heaven‘s strange in Malick’s approach to morality–whereas Badlands recognized it, challenged the viewer to interact with the film while considering it, Heaven‘s oblivious. No one in the film is particularly likable and none of them are worth spending ninety minutes with. Sam Shepard’s a little better, but he’s not any good. Malick obviously cast Linda Manz because of her voice, which is distinctive. She can’t deliver lines well with it, but whatever.

If there’s a solid, artistic impetus to Days of Heaven, it’s not visible in the film. It’s such a beautiful film–until the end, which lacks any personality–it’s impossible not to appreciate Malick’s talent. Billy Weber’s editing is astounding, the photography from Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler is amazing. Ennio Morricone’s music is a disaster, as it clearly tries to imply a different film.

Malick shifts the film’s focus towards the end, turning it on its head. He insinuates a lot of metaphor but it’s all baseless and the last twenty minutes of the film play terrible. The film’s exhausting, never feeling like Malick did anything but put something–anything–out in order to fulfill his contract. What’s worst about Days of Heaven is Manz’s narration. After Malick did that brilliant, innovative, singular narration work in Badlands, he uses utterly standard expository narration here.

It’s an incredible disappointment.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Terrence Malick; director of photography, Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler; edited by Billy Weber; music by Ennio Morricone; produced by Bert Schneider and Harold Schneider; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Richard Gere (Bill), Brooke Adams (Abby), Sam Shepard (The Farmer), Linda Manz (Linda), Robert J. Wilke (The Farm Foreman), Jackie Shultis (Linda’s Friend), Stuart Margolin (Mill Foreman), Timothy Scott (Harvest Hand), Gene Bell (Dancer), Doug Kershaw (Fiddler), Richard Libertini (Vaudeville Leader), Frenchie Lemond (Vaudeville Wrestler) and Sahbra Markus (Vaudeville Dancer).


RELATED

Death Wish (1974, Michael Winner)

I’m having a hard time deciding where the start with Death Wish. I wanted to open with a glib comment about how much I appreciated (even though it’s counter to some expository dialogue in the film) more of the criminals being white than black. Very progressive (or cautious) for 1974. But then I thought maybe starting with director Michael Winner–who actually does achieve one well-directed sequence in the entire film (and Death Wish shot on location in New York, so it’s hard to mess up, but Winner makes it look like a Mentos commercial). Or the writing, which is more Hollywoodized than an episode of “Friends.” I never thought about starting with Bronson’s performance, because I wanted to positive comments to come as a surprise. And Vincent Gardenia being terrible isn’t particularly interesting. I even thought about outlining how the story elements could have been juxtaposed to create something good. But then I finished watching the movie and the ending sort of messed it all up. For the majority of the film, Death Wish implies it’s going to be responsible for its content and then ends instead as an action movie. Bronson’s character is obviously suffering from a psychological break and, again, it’s suggested this insanity will be addressed… it isn’t. The lack of responsibility does just undo Bronson’s otherwise excellent work, it also damages the film. The last half hour of Death Wish–the film only really has a good half hour, the middle one–is mostly Gardenia’s bad acting… so it needed to end well and it did not.

Oh, I didn’t mention the score. I guess getting Herbie Hancock was some sort of coup for director Winner (based on wikipedia), but Hancock’s music is the film’s biggest problem (besides the directing and Gardenia, ahead of the writing). Hancock blares everything in the score–there’s practically a ‘mugger theme’–and brings absolutely no nuance to the movie, which is exactly what it needs. Besides the lousy third act, it’s a very quiet, intimate story… something Bronson either gets or just couldn’t mess up.

The real problem is Winner, who can’t figure out how to direct family scenes, fight scenes, men at work scenes–there are a couple good establishing shots, but I’m guessing those were second unit. He’s a terrible, terrible director. Like I said before, Mentos commercials (“it’s the freshmaker.”)

The lousy supporting cast doesn’t help. All the cops are terrible, not just Gardenia. Steven Keats tries real hard as Bronson’s son-in-law, but he just doesn’t pull it off (a combination of his performance and, visibly, not getting enough back from Bronson). Stuart Margolin, as the gun-lover who opens Bronson’s eyes, is good. Otherwise, it’s mediocre acting at best.

The film’s effects (I find it odd I could care less about popular novels of particular eras, but popular films of past eras I usually get around to seeing) are wide-reaching (Taxi Driver being an obvious example–I’m sure, after Death Wish made a fortune, studios got a lot more willing to release this material), though it’s a toss-up between the film’s financial success and Dino De Laurentiis’s particular brand of filmic storytelling. Once I saw his name as presenting it… I actually had some idea what I was in for.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Winner; screenplay by Wendell Mayes, based on the novel by Brian Garfield; director of photography, Arthur J. Ornitz; edited by Bernard Gribble; music by Herbie Hancock; production designer, Robert Gundlach; produced by Hal Landers and Bobby Roberts; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Charles Bronson (Paul Kersey), Hope Lange (Joanna Kersey), Vincent Gardenia (Frank Ochoa), Steven Keats (Jack Toby), William Redfield (Sam Kreutzer), Stuart Margolin (Ames Jainchill), Stephen Elliott (Police Commissioner), Kathleen Tolan (Carol Toby) and Jack Wallace (Hank).


RELATED