Tag Archives: Touchstone Pictures

Tin Men (1987, Barry Levinson)

Tin Men is expansive. So expansive writer-director Levinson can’t get everywhere. He doesn’t have time in 112 mintues, he doesn’t have the structure for it either. Tin Men establishes its narrative distance firmly, deliberately, and usually hilariously in the first act. When Levinson gets to the end of the second act, he’s way too interested in all the plot strands he’s got going on. By that time, the film has–for better or worse (worse, but more on it in a bit)–become Danny DeVito’s movie. DeVito had been sharing more with top-billed Richard Dreyfuss, but then Levinson moves the focus away from Dreyfuss. Except then Levinson becomes immediately more interested in everything going on around DeVito. Except DeVito’s completely unaware of all the things going on around him. So it changes the film’s tone.

At one point, DeVito gets called out on his apathy; while he doesn’t improve, he does start getting more likable. Likable is one of Tin Men’s biggest problems. Levinson loves all of his characters way too much. They’re all a little too precious. When the film starts, however, the characters aren’t likable or lovable or precious. In fact, they’re not supposed to be any of those things, much less all of them.

Tin Men opens with a very nostalgic, sentimental opening title sequence. Levinson’s got some issues with the sentimentality in the film. There’s very little, except when he forces it. After the titles, we meet DeVito and suffering wife Barbara Hershey, then DeVito runs into Dreyfuss. Literally. Car accident.

From their inital argument, which is before the characters are established (and it takes Levinson around half the movie to establish DeVito), Tin Men moves on to setting up the ground situation. DeVito and Dreyfuss are both aluminum siding salesmen. They work for different companies. They have acquaintances in common, but don’t know one another.

Then it’s time to introduce the acquaintances, which is where Tin Men is often its most easily amusing. Big list. Here we go. John Mahoney is Dreyfuss’s sidekick. Jackie Gayle is DeVito’s. Mahoney and Gayle have about the same size parts, except Mahoney’s drama and Gayle’s comedy. Levinson sets DeVito up to have the more humorous storyline, which requires no one like DeVito. Not the other characters, not the viewer.

Sorry, off track already.

Supporting acquantiances–Seymour Cassel, Richard Portnow, Matt Craven, Alan Blumenfeld, and Michael Tucker are Dreyfuss’s entourage. Cassel’s amazing. His delivery of his one-liners transcends. Every one of his scenes is phenomenal. Portnow and Craven are background. Blumenfeld’s a new salesman, so he gets more. Tucker’s a cameo. He’s good, but it’s a cameo. A meaty one, because Levinson loves the characters so much. When he’s being overindulgent with the characters, he’s able to keep the sentimentality in check. When he’s just trying to package the film? That sentimentality flails, always at the wrong time. Levinson can’t figure out how to package the film because it’s not sentimental, even if he intends it to be.

I’m off track again. Tin Men is so much at once, so much.

DeVito’s entourage is Stanley Brock, Bruno Kirby, and J.T. Walsh as the boss. Brock’s hilarious. He’s the Cassel analogue but the delivery is different. Kirby’s the straight man and he’s great. His deliveries of Levinson’s speedy dialogue is magical.

So back to complaining about the packaging. Between the opening and closing bookends, Levinson examines all sorts of things. Sure, there’s the overarching story of Dreyfuss discovering true love with Hershey after stealing her away from DeVito as a prank, but Levinson loses track of that story. He focus on Hershey briefly, setting her up to have a bigger part separate from Dreyfuss, Levinson pulls back. And it’s a shame because Hershey’s awesome and Levinson writes her scenes well. He just can’t keep the film away from DeVito.

Because DeVito is spellbinding. He never learns. He never impresses. He should be loathsome but he’s not because he’s kind of a dope. The character’s usually unpleasant but watching DeVito isn’t.

Dreyfuss is excellent. His part’s not as good.

DeVito overpowers Tin Men until Levinson gets distracted with the American Dream angle. Once Levinson grazes that idea, he can’t stop circling it. Because Tin Men is positive. It adores the trappings of its time period while eagerly anticipating coming progresses. Levinson beautifully foreshadows in the film.

Whenever there’s something deft, Levinson can handle it. When it’s the big stuff like Dreyfuss and Hershey’s romance, he gets distracted. And maybe even bored. Dreyfuss and Hershey get some movie moments–like a lovely rain reconcilation–but Hershey’s best opposite DeVito, not Dreyfuss. Levinson fumbles the character focus in the second half.

Great score (and songs) from Fine Young Cannibals. Stu Linder’s editing is breathtaking. Levinson and Linder cut loose a few times and create these bombastic and sublime sequences. Superb editing.

Peter Sova’s photography is all right. Tin Men is a Touchstone eighties movie and it looks like one. It’s overly saturated, which is great to emphasize the clothes and sometimes the cars; it doesn’t help with the rest. It’s not crisp enough. It’s Levinson’s fault. Sova seems perfectly capable of lighting an interior with some personality. Levinson isn’t tasking him.

Great production design from Peter Jamison.

Tin Men is an excellent (if oversaturated) production. It looks wonderful. It moves wonderful. It sounds wonderful. Tin Men just doesn’t get anywhere wonderful.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Barry Levinson; director of photography, Peter Sova; edited by Stu Linder; music by Fine Young Cannibals; production designer, Peter Jamison; produced by Mark Johnson; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Richard Dreyfuss (BB), Danny DeVito (Tilley), Barbara Hershey (Nora), John Mahoney (Moe), Jackie Gayle (Sam), Stanley Brock (Gil), Seymour Cassel (Cheese), Bruno Kirby (Mouse), J.T. Walsh (Wing), Richard Portnow (Carly), Matt Craven (Looney), Alan Blumenfeld (Stanley), Brad Sullivan (Masters), and Michael Tucker (Bagel).


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Oscar (1991, John Landis)

Excluding prologue and epilogue, Oscar has a present action of roughly four hours. The movie runs just shy of two hours. A lot happens with a lot of characters. And, while the film’s based on a play–which explains the limited setting–and even though it’s not like director Landis does anything spectacular except keep the trains running, it never feels stagy. Sometimes Landis’s composition is a little strange, but it’s never stagy. Oscar is always in motion. It never gets to take a break.

The story is extremely, intentionally convoluted. Sylvester Stallone is a mobster who’s going straight at noon; it’s a big day and he’s going to get a suit. We know he’s going to get a suit because the movie opens with flunky Peter Riegert reading off the morning schedule. It’s quickly executed, but it’s a good forecast. Even though Oscar never really looks good, Landis packages it fairly well. Bill Kenney’s production design is one of the big stars. Stallone’s got a mansion, people coming and going, the cops watching from across the street.

Oscar’s also a period piece, set in the early thirties, which presents some performance problems. Can’t forget to talk about those.

So Stallone’s got a big day and his accountant, a likable but somewhat thin Vincent Spano, shows up and throws a wrench in it. Turns out Spano is carrying on with Stallone’s daughter–Marisa Tomei in a great role. Except maybe it ends up Tomei likes Stallone’s elocution coach, Tim Curry. Curry and Tomei flirting ought to be weird, but it actually works out gloriously. There’s an adorable quality to Oscar, maybe because it’s a thirties gangster picture without any violence. Just positive vibes. Stallone is trying to go straight, after all.

There’s a whole lot more. The film isn’t real time but is consecutive enough characters’ presences define sections–like when Harry Shearer and Martin Ferrero show up as Stallone’s goofy Italian tailors. And Curry isn’t in the picture near the start, more like halfway, yet Landis and screenwriters Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland make it feel like Oscar can’t get on without him. Same with how Chazz Palminteri’s part grows. Initially, Riegert has a lot more to do, but eventually Palminteri ends up as the audience’s stand-in. He’s been watching the events unfold and the convolutions are driving him nuts.

It’s a great performance from Palminteri. There are a lot of great performances. Riegert, Tomei, Curry, Ferrero. And a lot of solid ones–Ornella Muti (who has way too little to do), Shearer, Joycelyn O’Brien, Elizabeth Barondes. Oscar is cast pretty well and Landis seems to know what do with the actors. At least those in orbit around Stallone.

The ones not in orbit? Like Kurtwood Smith’s doofus police lieutenant, the bankers hesitant to partner with Stallone–including William Atherton and Mark Metcalf, or rival gangster Richard Romanus–well, Landis has no idea. He goes for broad “hokey” comedy and it doesn’t work. Especially not with Eddie Bracken’s stuttering informant. What should be a nice cameo from Bracken is instead cringeworthy.

And how does Stallone do playing the relative straight man to all the lunacy? He does all right. He lets the better performances overshadow his own, which is great. He gets some funny stuff, but he never gets to goof. The goofing in Oscar is great; Ferrero and Shearer, Reigert and Palminteri–some finely executed comedy. Stallone’s good with Muti, good with Tomei, good with Barondes. And he’s good in the scenes with Spano.

Except Spano’s pretty thin. Landis shoots these over-the-shoulder shots down onto Stallone (Spano’s about four inches taller) and it seems like there should be something to it and there’s not. Here’s Spano trying to intellectually strong-arm Stallone for almost two hours, while never getting too unlikable, and Landis hasn’t got any ideas on how to visually jazz it up. It doesn’t do Spano any favors.

Nice score from Elmer Bernstein; there’s not a lot of it, but it’s nice. Mac Ahlberg’s photography is a yawn, though it’s not like Landis tasked him with anything ambitious or difficult. That mansion set is phenomenal. Great costumes too.

Oscar is a little quirky and the third act stumbles in large part thanks to Smith’s performance and Landis’s handling of the finale, but it’s a fine comedy with some excellent performances and sequences throughout.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; screenplay by Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland, based on the play by Claude Magnier; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by Dale Beldin; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Bill Kenney; produced by Leslie Belzberg; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Snaps Provolone), Ornella Muti (Sofia Provolone), Marisa Tomei (Lisa Provolone), Vincent Spano (Anthony Rossano, C.P.A.), Tim Curry (Dr. Poole), Peter Riegert (Aldo), Chazz Palminteri (Connie), Elizabeth Barondes (Theresa), Joycelyn O’Brien (Nora), Martin Ferrero (Luigi Finucci), Harry Shearer (Guido Finucci), William Atherton (Overton), Mark Metcalf (Milhous), Ken Howard (Kirkwood), Sam Chew Jr. (Van Leland), Don Ameche (Father Clemente), Kurtwood Smith (Lieutenant Toomey), Richard Romanus (Vendetti), Robert Lesser (Officer Keough), Art LaFleur (Officer Quinn), Linda Gray (Roxanne), Yvonne De Carlo (Aunt Rosa), and Eddie Bracken (Five Spot Charlie).


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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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Gangs of New York (2002, Martin Scorsese)

Gangs of New York is a really big, really bad epic. Director Scorsese pays so much attention to the scale of the film, with sweeping crane shots and intense (and terrible) action sequences, he doesn’t pay much attention to the other elements of the film. Like the acting. And the script.

First, the acting. It’s not terrible. Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s always clean-shaven and always has perfect hair because he’s a matinée idol, not an actor here, isn’t atrocious. He can’t keep an accent but, when he’s delivering the lame dialogue or pretending a romance with Cameron Diaz… well, it’s clear it isn’t his fault.

And Cameron Diaz isn’t terrible. She’s got an idiotic character and nothing to do in the film. She does nothing just fine.

Daniel Day-Lewis is fantastic. Until about sixty percent through the picture, he makes it worth seeing. Then he and DiCaprio have their falling out and the script goes even more to pot. It goes entirely into summary and narrative montage, even though Scorsese has stopped with the montages.

The film’s a mess, not just narratively, but visually. Thelma Schoonmaker–one of the great film editors of the last fifty years–is constantly doing these ugly, jagged cuts and even worse fades. Scorsese can’t do this film. From the first few minutes, it’s clear he can’t do a film this size. He doesn’t want to have to acknowledge the artifice and it kills the film.

Day-Lewis’s spellbindingly good. But Gangs is atrocious.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; screenplay by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan, based on a story by Cocks; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Dante Ferretti; produced by Alberto Grimaldi and Harvey Weinstein; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (Amsterdam Vallon), Daniel Day-Lewis (William Cutting), Cameron Diaz (Jenny Everdeane), Jim Broadbent (William Tweed), John C. Reilly (Jack Mulraney), Henry Thomas (Johnny Sirocco) and Brendan Gleeson (Walter McGinn).


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