Tag Archives: Vivica A. Fox

Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1998, Gregory Nava)

The most impressive thing about Why Do Fools Fall in Love isn’t how well Tina Andrews’s script does with exposition. Not just exposition as it plays out, but how Andrews foreshadows later revelation. The film is and isn’t a biopic of singer Frankie Lymon, focusing instead on his three widows–and is and isn’t a biopic of said widows–and the timeline is confused, but the audience needs to know how to make sense of that timeline before events occur. So Andrews’s initial exposition sets up the film for later development.

And it’s really impressive, but it’s still not the most impressive thing about the film, which is Vivica A. Fox’s performance as one of the widows. Also Larenz Tate is great as Frankie Lymon, but he’s something of an enigma. None of the wives knew they were married to a trigamist while they were married–or even while Lymon was alive (the film takes place about fifteen years after his death… with lots of flashbacks).

But while Fox is wife number one, she didn’t come into the picture until after Tate romanced fellow singer Halle Berry. So Fools introduces Tate as Lymon in the fifties, hops ahead to introduce Fox in the eighties (then Berry and Lela Rochon as the other widows), then jumps back to the fifties so Tate can meet Berry, then forward to the early sixties so he can meet Fox, then forward a bit for him to finally “settle down” with Berry, then forward again for him to woo Rochon. Rochon is a prim and proper Southern school teacher, Berry is the glamorous singer, Fox is an ex-con and habitual criminal whose troubles got worst thanks to Tate.

The film deals with Tate’s success first. Everything with the widows–except the prologue with Berry in the fifties–is after he’s fallen and gotten addicted to heroin. Andrews and director Nava lay the whole narrative out beautifully. They’ve got some dramatic hiccups in the finale, partially because it’s all tied to the court proceedings (with a solid Pamela Reed as the somewhat bemused judge), partially because Tate’s a bastard. Sorry, Lymon’s a bastard. Though Tate’s really good at playing him.

But there aren’t any answers as to his real emotions. The film has at least one big mystery (though, really, it also raises the possibility of more widows–there are a few years unaccounted) because it’s not Tate’s film, it’s the widows’ film. And when it’s Fox’s film, it’s exceptional. It’s really good when it’s Berry’s film and Rochon’s film, but not like when it’s Fox’s. Fox transfixes with her performance. Berry is glamorous and sympathetic, Rochon is sweet and sympathetic, but they’re not transfixing. In fact, they’re both better in their present day old age makeup scenes than in the flashbacks. Because they’re there to support Tate, who’s fantastic, but he’s not so fantastic he can overshadow Fox.

And not just because Fox is taller than him.

Fox’s flashbacks are about her regular person’s encounter with the famous. Berry’s are about the famous. Rochon’s are about the ex-famous. It’s all very different. Fox just has the best part.

All the supporting acting is good, except Paul Mazursky. He gets a pass for most of it, because he’s not essential. When he’s essential, however, he totally flops it. It’s too bad; another of the third act problems.

Most of the direction is fantastic. Nava can do the big scale of the rock and roll flashback and fame culture, he can do the small dramatic scale. The character moments in the film are just as effective as the musical numbers and the musical numbers are outstanding. Tate’s phenomenal in them. The lip-synching and sound editing of the performances are all wonderful.

Great photography from Edward Lachman, editing from Nancy Richardson, production design from Cary White. Nice score from Stephen James Taylor. Great soundtrack.

Fools has an outstanding script, good performances, a couple great ones, and strong direction. It paints itself into a corner with the narrative structure and takes some hits in the third act. But it mostly works out, which is no small feat given how unsympathetic Tate has to become and how sympathetic he has to remain.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Gregory Nava; written by Tina Andrews; director of photography, Edward Lachman; edited by Nancy Richardson; music by Stephen James Taylor; production designer, Cary White; produced by Paul Hall and Stephen Nemeth; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Larenz Tate (Frankie Lymon), Vivica A. Fox (Elizabeth Waters), Halle Berry (Zola Taylor), Lela Rochon (Emira Eagle), Pamela Reed (Judge Lambrey), David Barry Gray (Peter Markowitz), Clifton Powell (Lawrence Roberts), Lane Smith (Ezra Grahme), Paul Mazursky (Morris Levy), Ben Vereen (Richard Barrett), Miguel A. Núñez Jr. (Young Little Richard), and Little Richard (Little Richard).


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Independence Day (1996, Roland Emmerich)

There’s a mature way to talk about Independence Day. I should know, I’ve started writing this response about twelve times and this attempt is an entirely new draft. The mature way involves complementing David Brenner’s editing, complementing director Emmerich’s ability to integrate the special effects (regardless of their quality) and saying something nice about some of those special effects. Not all of them. The film has laughably bad explosions and lame matte shots. One could argue it was early in the CG days and it did actually have a limited budget so it did all right.

One could argue those things and, if trying to be mature, one might accept them and consider them.

I won’t be considering them further than this paragraph. Because what Independence Day does is embrace being a half measure, it tells its audience the recognizable but not exactly A-list cast is good enough, it tells its audience David Arnold’s “I’m like John Williams but bad” score is good enough. And it worked, because Emmerich and co-writer Dean Devlin aren’t serious filmmakers. I mean, they might take Independence Day seriously, which is a mistake because it means the jokes never quite work–Bill Pullman, the stupidest person on the face of the earth, as the President of the United States, in a terrible performance. It ought to be amazing. And it’s never even all right.

Because Emmerich and Devlin aren’t serious. They don’t care about integrity or craft and they know there’s a lot of potential audience who don’t care about it either. And they were right. Emmerich’s handling of the special effects, which very well may have done wonders in acclimating general moviegoers to science fiction action, isn’t thoughtful. His multiple homages to Spielberg are so awkward because he’s clueless. Emmerich knows how to present the visual information for consumption, but he can’t make a single artful thing. And he knows it. Independence Day is hilariously comfortable in its own mediocrity, which is a complement. It would actually be worse if it resented being so lame.

Not to say Devlin and Emmerich don’t exhibit confidence in the screenplay. They do, even down to Harry Connick Jr.’s moron sidekick to Will Smith. Or Randy Quaid’s lovably drunk Vietnam vet crop duster. They know how to do what they want to do. They just don’t want to do too much. Mary McDonnell as the First Lady, for example. She gets a similar treatment as Connick or Quaid, but McDonnell’s good enough to get through the part (she has less to do). She, Judd Hirsch and Adam Baldwin get through Independence Day the best. Baldwin probably gives the best performance (in the film), while Hirsch is downright terrible. But part of the point is admiring Hirsch’s professionalism in his terrible performance. Of course it’s awful, but look at how consistent he is with it. He’s a pro.

Not so much with Jeff Goldblum, who’s playing the really smart guy, only Emmerich and Devlin’s understanding of intelligence is apparently based on reruns of “Head of the Class.”

As for breakout star Will Smith. He’s good about twenty percent of the time. He’s got some annoying dialogue, which Smith essays with gusto, but he still manages to be somewhat likable. Maybe that sympathy comes from the film eventually treating him like a moron. The plot’s moronic, yet Smith has to be even more moronic so Goldblum can explain things to him (and the audience). Smith’s dialogue then has him spout of non sequiturs meant to maintain his independent likability while still acknowledging Goldblum’s superior intellect.

It’s heinously manipulative but also awfully rendered, so who cares? Emmerich’s direction of Smith and Goldblum’s scenes is his worst direction of actors in the film and his direction of actors is atrocious.

The first third, setting up the alien attack, isn’t godawful. It’s fine, if still poorly acted and poorly written. It does start to go downhill when Goldblum and Hirsch join Pullman’s storyline, but there’s still a pace (and some of the film’s best effects sequences).

The rest of it? So much worse. Even Arnold’s music gets worse.

Independence Day is a film with a bad James Rebhorn performance. Such a thing should not exist.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roland Emmerich; written by Dean Devlin and Emmerich; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub; edited by David Brenner; music by David Arnold; production designers, Patrick Tatopoulos and Oliver Scholl; produced by Devlin; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Will Smith (Captain Steven Hiller), Bill Pullman (President Thomas J. Whitmore), Jeff Goldblum (David Levinson), Mary McDonnell (First Lady Marilyn Whitmore), Judd Hirsch (Julius Levinson), Robert Loggia (General William Grey), Randy Quaid (Russell Casse), Margaret Colin (Constance Spano), Vivica A. Fox (Jasmine Dubrow), James Rebhorn (Albert Nimziki), Harvey Fierstein (Marty Gilbert), Adam Baldwin (Major Mitchell) and Brent Spiner (Dr. Brakish Okun).


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Batman & Robin (1997, Joel Schumacher)

I’m not going to defend Batman & Robin. It’s not so much a matter of the film being indefensible, it’s just a matter of it being a pointless exercise. And, by defend, I don’t mean identifying who gives the least embarrassing performance (Michael Gough) or who is just jaw-droppingly bad (Chris O’Donnell). Watching Batman & Robin, you can see the trailer moments, you can see the toy commercial moments, you can see the Happy Meal commercial moments. These moments aren’t hidden–Batman & Robin invites the audience to reveal in its brand possibilities.

It’s so blissfully unaware of itself, I almost don’t want to disturb that delusion. At the time of the film’s release, a friend of mine said, “if Schumacher wanted to do the TV show, they should’ve just done the TV show.” He was correct. Throw in the Neal Hefti “Batman Theme” and Batman & Robin would’ve been… well, it would’ve still been awful, because director Schumacher is making a movie for kids and trying to throw in adult stuff to make it appear grown-up.

Sure, the film’s objectively bad. Arnold Schwarzenegger is awful. Akiva Goldsman’s script is awful. Stephen Goldblatt’s photography is flat and boring (though everything except establishing shots being done on sets might have something to do with that boredom). The film’s so bad, you can’t even tell if it’s poorly edited or if it’s everything else about it. Elliot Goldenthal’s music’s awful though.

I should do a word count on “awful” for this post. But, see, I didn’t defend it. The film is a perfectly natural extension of where the franchise was going. It’s not about franchise fatigue or anything lofty; suspension of disbelief isn’t just plot holes and bad casting, it’s also about the work’s basic agreement. With Batman & Robin, Schumacher and company just told the viewers what they thought of them.

There’s nothing interesting to watch in Batman & Robin. I was sort of hoping Alicia Silverstone secretly gave a good performance or something wacky, but not really. She’s better than O’Donnell but so’s the guy who played Bane and he didn’t even have any dialogue. And it is interesting to compare George Clooney in this film to his later work. But none of those expectations or inquiries have anything to do with the film.

When you gaze long at Batman & Robin (and you do, because it’s endlessly long), Batman & Robin also gazes into you.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Schumacher; screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, based on characters created by Bob Kane; director of photography, Stephen Goldblatt; edited by Mark Stevens and Dennis Virkler; music by Elliot Goldenthal; production designer, Barbara Ling; produced by Peter Macgregor-Scott; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Mr. Freeze), George Clooney (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Chris O’Donnell (Robin / Dick Grayson), Uma Thurman (Poison Ivy / Dr. Pamela Isley), Alicia Silverstone (Barbara), Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth), Pat Hingle (Commissioner James Gordon), John Glover (Dr. Jason Woodrue), Elle Macpherson (Julie Madison), Vivica A. Fox (Ms. B. Haven), Vendela Kirsebom Thomessen (Nora Fries), Jeep Swenson (Bane) and Elizabeth Sanders (Gossip Gerty).


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