Tag Archives: Universal Pictures

The Last Starfighter (1984, Nick Castle)

The Last Starfighter gets a long way on affability. Lead Lance Guest is nothing if not affable. Robert Preston plays an affable alien grifter. Dan O’Herlihy, completely covered in makeup, is affable as Guest’s alien co-pilot. And the whole concept of the thing–video game wunderkind Guest gets transported to outer space to fight a galactic war–is affable.

And Starfighter needs that affability. It’s a long movie without any good villains (Norman Snow tries to chew scenery but director Castle is too busy trying to keep the questionable plot going) and without any engaging special effects sequences. The Last Starfighter’s special effects are almost entirely CGI. Weak CGI. They don’t mix with the live action, appearing–at best–to be cartoonish. At worst, they’re laughable. Ron Cobb’s production design never scores when the film’s up in space. Arguably the earthbound stuff, set in a trailer park, is fine. At least the trailer park has a natural flow; the space stuff is just big, relatively empty sets and a bunch of nonsense.

Because of the CGI, there’s no way to make Starfighter any better. The special effects are an albatross. Actually, when they do practical on Preston’s (idiotically conceived) “star car”–it’s a car, it’s a space ship–it looks terrible. Castle doesn’t have a knack for special effects direction. He does better on solid ground and so does cinematographer King Baggot. Baggot’s photography is perfectly fine, but once he gets into outer space and can’t do anything with the silly sets or to match the CGI sequences… well, it pales in comparison to the Earth stuff.

Craig Safan’s music is enthusiastic more than anything else. It’s occasionally effective too.

As far as the acting goes, Preston’s easily the best. He’s got a silly, fun character and he sells it. Guest is okay in the lead. He’s likable, which is most important, and sympathetic, which Castle wants to be important. Starfighter, with real special effects, might have some dramatic heft. Without, it doesn’t. But Guest still does more than all right.

O’Herlihy has a good time, which goes a long way. The alien stuff is thinly written and badly designed, so there was only going to be so far he could take it. He’s a goof, just covered in makeup. Preston’s got no makeup and, therefore, is much more expressive and successful in his goofiness.

As the girlfriend, Catherine Mary Stewart is usually likable. She’s not good, but she’s usually likable. Her part could be a lot better too. Chris Hebert is effective as Guest’s annoying little brother; he gets some of the nice comedy scenes opposite Guest. Barbara Bosson is completely wasted as Guest’s mother.

The Last Starfighter is a bit of a chore. But an affable one.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Nick Castle; written by Jonathan R. Betuel; director of photography, King Baggot; edited by Carroll Timothy O’Meara; music by Craig Safan; production designer, Ron Cobb; produced by Gary Adelson and Edward O. Denault; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Lance Guest (Alex Rogan), Dan O’Herlihy (Grig), Catherine Mary Stewart (Maggie Gordon), Chris Hebert (Louis Rogan), Barbara Bosson (Jane Rogan), Norman Snow (Xur) and Robert Preston (Centauri).


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Dead Silence (2007, James Wan), the unrated version

Dead Silence is pretty dumb, but it’s often incredibly well-made, which makes up for a lot of the dumbness. There are a lot of problems with the acting–lead Ryan Kwanten is particularly lacking when delivering the weak dialogue though he’s otherwise acceptable as a scream king. Or, in the case of Dead Silence, where the monster gets you if you scream, he’s acceptable as a non-scream king. But the film relies heavily on exposition. Even when Kwanten’s not talking–or even when he’s listening to one of the better actors (Donnie Wahlberg and Michael Fairman, for example)–there’s the constant threat of a weak performance.

Also bad is Laura Regan as Kwanten’s wife. They’re obnoxiously cute or at least screenwriter Leigh Whannell intends them to be cute. It doesn’t really come off. Partially because of the performances, partially because of the writing. Dead Silence has enormous plot holes and logic gaps. Director Wan manages to get across a lot of them, but there’s only so much style can do. Eventually, the logic gaps catch up with the film. At that point, however, Wahlberg’s got a bigger part so at least he’s chewing the scenery in a terribly written cop role.

Michael N. Knue’s editing is good. The first act is hurried, partially due to the script. It’s only successful thanks to Knue’s editing. He slows it down for the rest of the film, which takes place over a couple unlikely days, and doesn’t get to affect the pace as much. It’s still good editing in the latter part, it’s just not expertly hurried.

Solid photography from John R. Leonetti too, though Dead Silence has been through a lot of post-production for the colors. Director Wan focuses the viewer’s attention, usually obviously, and always pragmatically. Dead Silence is a light film, untold horrors of ventriloquism or not; Wan’s direction at least gives it the impression of heft.

Middling support from Bob Gunton and Amber Valletta don’t really hurt the picture. It’d have been nice if they were better as Kwanten’s estranged family, but it probably wouldn’t have helped the picture much.

Once Dead Silence finds its pace in the middle–after Knue’s no longer keeping things moving through aggressive cutting–it’s a solidly diverting, if questionably acted and definitely poorly written, horror picture. The big reveal is terrible and Wan goes out of his way to forecast it. Maybe not the particulars but at least the concept for the solution. Whannell’s script lacks any depth, it’s just too bad it’s similarly shallow as far as conclusions go.

But Wan does a fine job putting it all together, bad script, weak lead. It’s far more competent than it needs to be.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by James Wan; screenplay by Leigh Whannell, based on a story by Wan and Whannell; director of photography, John R. Leonetti; edited by Michael N. Knue; music by Charlie Clouser; production designer, Julie Berghoff; produced by Mark Burg, Gregg Hoffman, and Oren Koules; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Ryan Kwanten (Jamie Ashen), Laura Regan (Lisa Ashen), Donnie Wahlberg (Det. Lipton), Michael Fairman (Henry Walker), Amber Valletta (Ella Ashen), Bob Gunton (Edward Ashen), Joan Heney (Marion Walker) and Judith Roberts (Mary Shaw).


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The Monolith Monsters (1957, John Sherwood)

Against the odds, The Monolith Monsters almost comes together in the finale. The special effects are good, there’s a lot of tension, none of the acting is too bad. And then the end flops. I want to blame director Sherwood, maybe screenwriters Norman Jolley and Robert M. Fresco, maybe editor Patrick McCormack, maybe producer Howard Christie; I can’t blame any of them in particular because The Monolith Monsters sputtering out is all their faults. Technically speaking, only Ellis W. Carter’s photography is adequate throughout. Even the special effects take a while to come together because they’re poorly paced. The movie’s actually not though. The movie moves at a good pace, though it does lose “lead” Grant Williams too often.

Williams is fine. He doesn’t save the movie but he doesn’t do anything bad in his part, which is an achievement in this picture. Lola Albright’s bad as his girlfriend. Les Tremayne is likable but not good as the town reporter. Oh, Albright’s a school teacher. She’s better as the school teacher than as Williams’s squeeze and she’s terrible as the school teacher. Trevor Bardette is likable but not good as Williams’s college professor. Harry Jackson probably gives the best performance in the film, though an uncredited William Schallert has a ball as a fastidious weatherman.

The writing is fairly lame. Lots of expository dialogue, which director Sherwood can’t get his actors to convey naturally. Some of the problem is the script, some Sherwood, some the actors. Phil Harvey’s Williams’s sidekick and he’s bad whenever he has to talk, but endearing when he’s just moving around the set. It’s weird, but then the film keeps going and other performances are weak and unsupported by the direction and it makes sense. Everything wrong with The Monolith Monsters makes perfect sense.

Except the screw-up at the end. Everything building to it–and some of the scenery gets set up at the film’s open and then more in that weak expository dialogue–it goes seamlessly for almost all of it and then stalls. It’s a problematic but winning special effects sequence. It needs support from the rest of the film and it doesn’t get it. It’s silly. The Monolith Monsters is silly and it shouldn’t be and it ruins a lot of the movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Sherwood; screenplay by Norman Jolley and Robert M. Fresco, based on a story by Jack Arnold and Fresco; director of photography, Ellis W. Carter; edited by Patrick McCormack; produced by Howard Christie; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Grant Williams (Dave Miller), Lola Albright (Cathy Barrett), Les Tremayne (Martin Cochrane), Trevor Bardette (Prof. Arthur Flanders), Phil Harvey (Ben Gilbert), William Flaherty (Police Chief Dan Corey), Harry Jackson (Dr. Steve Hendricks), Richard H. Cutting (Dr. E.J. Reynolds) and Linda Scheley (Ginny Simpson).


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Firestarter (1984, Mark L. Lester)

If I tried really hard, would I be able to think of something nice to say about Firestarter? I was going to complement some of Tangerine Dream’s score–not all of it, but some of it–but it turns out it’s not so much a score as a selection of otherwise unreleased Tangerine Dream tracks director Lester picked out. It makes sense a lot of the music doesn’t work knowing that situation, because no way Lester is going to make any significantly good choices for the film.

The film simply has nothing going for it. There are no good performances; watching Firestarter, which is exceptionally boring in addition to being stupid, I wondered more what possessed certain actors to sign on. What the heck is Art Carney doing in this film, much less married to Louise Fletcher? There’s a sixteen year age difference and it looks like about ten more. Carney looks ancient, Fletcher looks great. How did they meet? Why does he complain to strangers she wasn’t able to bear him daughters? Why is so much of Firestarter about old men–Art Carney, George C. Scott, Martin Sheen–fixating on Drew Barrymore? She’s not even energetic enough to be obnoxious. Sure, Lester directs her terribly, but she’s still bored. She can be shooting fireballs out of her face and be bored in Firestarter.

As Barrymore’s father, Brian Keith tries but doesn’t succeed at anything. Stanley Mann’s script is too lousy, the story beats are just terrible, the dialogue’s weak, the characters are weak. But it fits for the film, which doesn’t have anything going for it technically either. Giuseppe Ruzzolini’s cinematography is weak. Lester shoots the film Panavision for eventual pan-and-scan cropping. There’s constant empty space and Ruzzolini’s not lighting anything interesting in it. Firestarter is not creepy, it’s not scary, it’s dumb.

And the real problem is George C. Scott. He’s George C. Scott and he’s humiliating himself. Scott probably gives Firestarter’s worst performance. It’s this weird, terrible macho role and someone should’ve told him no. Or maybe he got himself an awesome swimming pool with the paycheck, but it’s terrible acting. He’s not even hamming it up–Sheen at least bites at some of the scenery–Scott just plays it badly and without enthusiasm.

Firestarter’s dumb and it’s bad. And it’s long. The special effects aren’t even good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mark L. Lester; screenplay by Stanley Mann, based on the novel by Stephen King; director of photography, Giuseppe Ruzzolini; edited by David Rawlins and Ronald Sanders; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, Giorgio Postiglione; produced by Frank Capra Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring David Keith (Andy), Drew Barrymore (Charlie), George C. Scott (Rainbird), Martin Sheen (Hollister), Moses Gunn (Doctor Pynchot), Art Carney (Irv Manders), Louise Fletcher (Norma Manders) and Freddie Jones (Doctor Wanless).


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