Tag Archives: Thomas Newman

Real Genius (1985, Martha Coolidge)

It’s hard to know where to start with Real Genius. It runs just over a hundred minutes, but gets so much done in the first forty, then so much different stuff done in the next thirty, the remainder is almost entirely separate.

The plot evolves, expanding as events unfold. Genius isn’t its concept or MacGuffin. Instead, it’s something wholly original, maybe because it doesn’t worry about the audience identifying with the characters. But director Coolidge never treats them as subjects; they’re always the film’s driving force.

Gabriel Jarret plays the lead–a fifteen year-old genius off to a science school–and brings the viewer into the film. Until he passes it off to Val Kilmer, a slightly older genius. But while Kilmer’s character confronts personal accountability, Jarret’s busy having a touching romance with Michelle Meyrink.

While all this character development is going on, Kilmer and Jarret are also dealing with William Atherton’s deceptive prick of a professor and Robert Prescott (as his lackey).

The juxtaposing of Kilmer and Jarret’s characters is one of Genius‘s strongest elements, especially since the actors do so well with it. Kilmer gets to give an absurd, rock star type performance (and excels), while Jarret is introverted but also more mature.

Meyrink’s great, as is Prescott. Atherton, in the type of role he’d quickly become typecast for, is perfect. Jon Gries is also excellent in a small role.

Coolidge uses her Panavision frame well and there’s beautiful Vilmos Zsigmond photography.

Real Genius is really good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martha Coolidge; screenplay by Neal Israel, Pat Proft and Peter Torokvei, based on a story by Israel and Proft; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Richard Chew; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Josan F. Russo; produced by Brian Grazer; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Val Kilmer (Chris Knight), Gabriel Jarret (Mitch Taylor), Michelle Meyrink (Jordan), William Atherton (Prof. Jerry Hathaway), Jon Gries (Lazlo Hollyfeld), Robert Prescott (Kent), Ed Lauter (David Decker), Patti D’Arbanville (Sherry Nugil), Stacy Peralta (Shuttle Pilot), Beau Billingslea (George), Joanne Baron (Mrs. Taylor), Sandy Martin (Mrs. Meredith), Dean Devlin (Milton), Yuji Okumoto (Fenton) and Deborah Foreman (Susan Decker).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | REAL GENIUS (1985) / MY SCIENCE PROJECT (1985).

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WALL·E (2008, Andrew Stanton)

WALL·E might be the first major Hollywood production not to feature a speaking protagonist in a while. I can’t remember the last one. WALL·E, the robot, makes some emotive sounds and mispronounces his girlfriend’s name, but he communicates through action, not through verbalization. It’s rather effective, since the robot’s supposed to be adorable and Pixar’s animation team goes above and beyond. The robot’s utilitarian in design, but everything else is precious (though the eyes aren’t particularly pragmatic).

The first half of the film is a solid, interrupted romance, with WALL·E finding a girl robot, Eve, who’s beginning to return his affections. Until he, inadvertently, causes her to shut down. This development doesn’t just make the opportunity for lots of cute scenes with the concerned WALL·E, but it also kicks off the rest of the narrative. WALL·E‘s got an interesting narrative–it’s a little short, but it’d be hard without dialogue to flesh it out and dialogue would ruin it–with two plots (the fate of WALL·E and Eve and the fate of the human race) intricately tied, but still somewhat unconnected. It’s because the moving parts of WALL·E are the romance (which reminds a lot of Broadway Danny Rose in that simple, but staggeringly affecting way). The human race and its problems mostly concern Jeff Garlin being really funny as the primary human character.

But director Stanton takes an approach to the future–and particularly the space–I haven’t seen in quite a while. There are lots of homages (2001) and references. The scenes on the decimated future Earth, polluted to all hell through mismanagement from a Wal-Mart stand-in–WALL·E‘s not just pro-environmentalist, it’s one of the most anti-corporate mainstream films I’ve ever seen… coming from Walt Disney Pictures no less–remind immediately of A.I. The references I expect, but Stanton’s enthusiasms for directing space scenes–or the wonderment one can experience thanks to a light bulb–is something special. The light bulbs and the like aside, Stanton’s space scenes remind of Robert Wise’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture in terms of raw excitement. Stanton fully utilizes the technology, but for the story. WALL·E contains a dance scene, probably as close as we’ll get to seeing Jeannot Szwarc’s tragically unfilmed ballet for Supergirl, and it’s a perfect example of the art and technology working in unison.

The approach to the story, and how the filmmaking interacts with it, is what makes WALL·E so exceptional. There are no metaphors, no analogs, instead Stanton establishes WALL·E and the setting in five minutes or less and then everything plays out in it. WALL·E doesn’t garner sympathy because he’s an analog for a pining leading man, he garners it because he’s a little robot with a particular story.

Where WALL·E falters is in its attempt at reality. There’s live action footage of Fred Willard as the characters look into their past, along with a lot more live action clips. The way it works out is problematic… the future is CG animation, the past is reality. It’s a neat idea, but just doing as life-like CG as possible for the past–never breaking the film’s visual continuity–would have been far better. There are also some problems with how much information the film presents about this future setting. It dwells long enough to raise questions, but doesn’t want to address them (or even the raising of those questions, since many are non-Disney like).

WALL·E‘s probably Pixar’s best film (the only serious competition is Monsters, Inc., also from Stanton, but that film had third act problems) and it’s a definite achievement.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Stanton; written by Stanton and Jim Reardon, based on a story by Stanton and Pete Docter; directors of photography, Jeremy Lasky and Danielle Feinberg; edited by Stephen Schaffer; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Ralph Eggleston; produced by Jim Morris; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Ben Burtt (WALL·E), Elissa Knight (Eve), Jeff Garlin (Captain), Fred Willard (Shelby Forthright), Macintalk (Auto), John Ratzenberger (John), Kathy Najimy (Mary) and Sigourney Weaver (Ship’s Computer).


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Flesh and Bone (1993, Steve Kloves)

Dennis Quaid’s performance in Flesh and Bone is complicated. The character, the hints the film offers into him, is more complicated, but Quaid’s performance somehow encapsulates all those unknowns without defining them. The film has some really strange touching scenes, as Quaid’s character lets down the wall long enough to express himself. And the anguish at not being wooden to everyone plays beautifully on Quaid’s face. I don’t think I’ve ever used wooden as a compliment to a performance before, but here it’s essential. The film wouldn’t make any sense if Quaid were any different.

The surprising performance–it’s no surprise Quaid is good–is Meg Ryan. The kewpie doll almost, but not quite, broken by life’s hardships. Ryan’s great during the “salad days” scenes and the almost comic scenes (Kloves knows how to mix genre), but she’s better during the other scenes. The scenes where she isn’t cute and she especially pulls off the odyssey scene. It’s hard to explain that scene. She walks across endless cornfields, empty of anything else, but full of everything unsaid in her character’s past. It’s a stunning sequence (ably assisted by Kloves and the sound designer and composer Thomas Newman).

As for Gwyneth Paltrow and James Caan… both are fantastic. Caan has one of those beautiful roles–he gets do whatever he wants, but it’s also very grounded and terrifying. Paltrow’s performance suggests dramatic potential she’s never realized.

Kloves’s script and direction are perfect. The script is something singular in its plotting. He gently brings the character relationships to new levels, subtlety, almost with a hands off approach. With the romance between Quaid and Ryan, it makes sense, since their husband and wife status does something for the film. But the odd relationship between Ryan and Paltrow… it’s more impressive. Kloves’s handling of female characters–there are the two main ones, one minor one, and one even more minor–is perfect.

I was a little apprehensive about the film. I haven’t seen it in nine years and it runs over two hours and I remembered it being boring. It’s not boring, not even in a good way. Nothing happens–Kloves’s gimmick, if it qualifies–isn’t an issue for the majority of the film so it’s not getting in the way. It’s a character study with the possibility and ingredients for sensationalism and it never strays. It’s always perfect. Especially given the short present action (four days or so) of the film. It’s exceptional.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Steve Kloves; director of photography, Philippe Rousselot; edited by Mia Goldman; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Jon Hutman; produced by Mark Rosenberg and Paula Weinstein; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Arlis Sweeney), Meg Ryan (Kay Davies), James Caan (Roy Sweeney), Gwyneth Paltrow (Ginnie), Jerry Swindall (Young Arlis), Scott Wilson (Elliot) and Christopher Rydell (Reese Davies).


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