Tag Archives: Winona Ryder

Great Balls of Fire! (1989, Jim McBride)

There’s no point to Great Balls of Fire! As a biopic it’s shaky–lead Dennis Quaid only gets to be the protagonist when he’s not being too despicable, which isn’t often and the film has to distance itself from Winona Ryder, playing Quaid’s love interest.

And thirteen year-old cousin.

So it’s understandable director McBride and co-screenwriter Jack Baran don’t want to delve too deep into the characters.

It’s also not a comedy, because even though Quaid plays Jerry Lee Lewis like an affable buffoon, it’s never clear if it’s all an act and Quaid (or Lewis) is really calculating or he’s just an idiot. Either way, he knows perving on his thirteen year-old cousin is wrong because her father–John Doe–is also putting a roof over Quaid’s head and playing in his band. During one montage sequence–when Lewis performs on “The Steve Allen Show”–suggests Fire could be some kind of rumination on American culture in the fifties, as the film cuts to various television shows of the era with the characters watching the television in shock… but it’s just that one sequence.

Otherwise, Fire just sort of churns along through the timeline. Hit records, marriage, failure. Sort of. There’s no arc to any of it. No one gets one. Not Quaid, whose character has less internal activity than a three scene cameo by Michael St. Gerard as Elvis. Certainly not Ryder, who gets a fun montage where she’s shopping for her home, then a breakdown when she realizes she’s just a kid then… relatively nothing until she starts getting abused by drunken failure Quaid. Doe kind of gets an arc. But it’s all background, going on when McBride is paying attention to other things. Doe probably gives the film’s best performance, partially because of that arc.

As his wife (and Ryder’s mom), Lisa Blount is fine. She’s in the movie a lot but gets absolutely nothing to do actually do. Except calm Doe occasionally.

Trey Wilson and Stephen Tobolowsky are the record producers. They’re fine. Wilson’s a little better, though both their parts are razor thin.

Then there’s Alec Baldwin as preacher Jimmy Swaggart (real-life cousin to Jerry Lee Lewis). He’s okay? His presence in the film is simultaneously sensational and pointless.

Quaid’s really good at pretending to play and sing the music. The real Lewis recorded all the songs and there are piano stunt doubles for the harder stuff; but what Quaid does, he does really well.

Technically the film’s more than proficient. Good production design from David Nichols. Solid photography from Affonso Beato. The problem’s the script. No one can act it well because it doesn’t want to be acted well. It gets queasy dwelling on its caricatures.

In the end, Fire just fizzles out. It’s often entertaining, sometimes engaging, but McBride and Baran don’t have a handle on the story they want to tell, much less how to tell it.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jim McBride; screenplay by Jack Baran and McBride, based on the book by Myra Lewis and Murray Silver Jr.; director of photography, Affonso Beato; edited by Lisa Day, Pembroke J. Herring, and Bert Lovitt; production designer, David Nichols; produced by Adam Fields; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Jerry Lee Lewis), Winona Ryder (Myra Gale Brown), John Doe (J.W. Brown), Lisa Blount (Lois Brown), Trey Wilson (Sam Phillips), Stephen Tobolowsky (Jud Phillips), and Alec Baldwin (Jimmy Swaggart).


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Beetlejuice (1988, Tim Burton)

How did Beetlejuice ever get past the studio suits? It really says something about eighties mainstream filmmaking and today’s. It’s not just the absence of a likable protagonist—Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis are the main characters for the first forty-five minutes, then hand the film off to Winona Ryder, who carries it until the last quarter, when Michael Keaton finally takes over—but it’s also just really strange.

The script’s a tad tepid. I’d forgotten the conclusion; it turns the movie into a sitcom pilot. I imagine Burton didn’t really care about the script being solid, because he makes the film look spectacular throughout.

It opens with this beautiful shot of a model—Thomas E. Ackerman’s photography is wondrous throughout; it’s a shame Burton didn’t bring him along for Batman—and every subsequent shot is great.

All of the model work is fabulous—even if some of the composite shots are problematic—making Beetlejuice a joy to watch.

What’s not a joy is some of the acting. The script’s weak enough, it’s probably mostly the screenwriters’ fault but still….

Davis and Catherine O’Hara are both bad. Glenn Shadix is, politely speaking, too broad.

But the rest of the cast is great—Baldwin, Jeffrey Jones, Winona Ryder, Sylvia Sidney. Great small stuff from Robert Goulet and Dick Cavett.

And Keaton? He’s funny, but he doesn’t make the movie. The role’s too easy.

But, like I said, Burton’s direction (and the mostly strong performances) make it a joy to watch.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Michael McDowell and Warren Skaaren, based on a story by McDowell and Larry Wilson; director of photography, Thomas E. Ackerman; edited by Jane Kurson; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Bo Welch; produced by Michael Bender, Richard Hashimoto and Wilson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Michael Keaton (Betelgeuse), Alec Baldwin (Adam Maitland), Geena Davis (Barbara Maitland), Winona Ryder (Lydia Deetz), Catherine O’Hara (Delia Deetz), Jeffrey Jones (Charles Deetz), Glenn Shadix (Otho), Annie McEnroe (Jane Butterfield), Rachel Mittelman (Little Jane Butterfield), Robert Goulet (Maxie Dean), Adelle Lutz (Beryl), Dick Cavett (Bernard), Susan Kellermann (Grace) and Sylvia Sidney (Juno).


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Black Swan (2010, Darren Aronofsky)

I hate responding to films like Black Swan because I don’t know where to start.

From the first sequence, Aronofsky defines his approach as singular. Except for that first sequence, he never tries to film a ballet. He’s always filming a ballet performance. But he manages, filming those performances, which he tends to shoot in long shot–approximately the audience’s view of the dancers–to make them the most exquisitely filmic ballet sequences I can remember having ever seen.

While ballet makes up a good portion of the film’s running time, it’s not necessarily a film about the ballet. Until the third act, Aronofsky is making one of the stranger character studies. We spend the entire film with Natalie Portman’s ballerina and I don’t think there’s a single expository conversation involving her. Aronofsky and screenwriters Heyman, Heinz and McLaughlin (given the importance of gender, it was a shock to discover three men wrote the film) offer infrequent insights into Portman’s character. Black Swan is a character study with very few people and a lot of “action” (the ballet scenes); the discovery is gradual.

Saying Portman’s performance here is her best work is misleading. Her previous work never suggested she was capable of such a performance.

Aronofsky holds her in these intense broken moments and brings in Clint Mansell’s beautiful, disturbing score and the film transcends.

Great supporting work from Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel and Barbara Hershey.

I’ve been waiting nine years for Black Swan and I didn’t even know it.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Darren Aronofsky; written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin, based on a story by Heinz; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Andrew Weisblum and Kristina Boden; music by Clint Mansell; production designer, Thérèse DePrez; produced by Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Natalie Portman (Nina Sayers), Mila Kunis (Lily), Vincent Cassel (Thomas Leroy), Barbara Hershey (Erica Sayers), Winona Ryder (Beth Macintyre), Benjamin Millepied (David) and Ksenia Solo (Veronica).


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Star Trek (2009, J.J. Abrams)

There really isn’t anything to dislike about Star Trek. Well, maybe the music, which isn’t bad, just isn’t as good the rest of the music in the series. There’s a lot to like–Chris Pine (though the wife disagrees), J.J. Abrams’s direction is outstanding, there’s some nice little stuff (Zoe Saldana’s Uhura and her romance, Leonard Nimoy’s reaction to Pine, Karl Urban’s woefully underused McCoy). Oh, wait. What’s his name… Eric Bana? Was it Eric Bana? He was awful. Oh, and Ben Cross. He was lousy too.

The problem with the film is its uselessness. I saw it in a theater packed with college students who hooted and hollred during the Transformers sequel–Abrams isn’t exactly going for a high brow audience. The script, from Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who often really stink), isn’t bad. There are some lame moments, but the dialogue’s solid–Pine delivers it with an unbelievable swagger, playing Kirk as a superhero, something Shatner never really recognized in his essaying of the role–and there are some neat developments. But it’s really all about Abrams’s direction. Whether it’s the–as far as I know, I haven’t seen the more recent Star Trek films–outstanding CG space shots (Abrams’s composition of these scenes is utterly unlike any other Star Trek direction I’ve seen, much more visceral… in fact, it sort of resembles the new shots from Bob Wise’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture director’s cut), amazing action scenes. Abrams, on his second film, does a fantastic job.

So Pine’s excellent, something he establishes from his first scene. Saldana’s good, playing well off Pine and Zachary Quinto. Quinto’s okay… adequate. The problem is how good Nimoy is in his scenes. His link to the original incarnation, not to mention his lovely (there really isn’t any other word for it) scenes with Pine… Quinto can’t really compete. Maybe in the next one (in this one, there’s a hint at a solid chemistry between Pine and Quinto). And, really, all Star Trek is about is waiting for the next one.

Because Karl Urban? He’s really not in this one enough. He probably gives the best performance and, even without a lot of back story, has the most interesting character.

Bruce Greenwood’s kind of useless. Abrams should have tried harder to get Tom Cruise.

Simon Pegg’s hilarious as Scotty. John Cho and Anton Yelchin are kind of useless too. They’re both all right, but there’s no part for them in the film.

The script’s got a bunch of logic holes and probably many more if one were to think about them, but one isn’t supposed to think about Star Trek. One’s supposed to enjoy the action, laugh at the jokes, get the references. And it works.

For an absolutely pointless two hour franchise “relaunch,” it’s about as good as it could be and it’s pretty good.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by J.J. Abrams; screenplay by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, based on the television series created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Daniel Mindel; edited by Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Scott Chambliss; produced by Abrams and Damon Lindelof; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Chris Pine (James T. Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Leonard Nimoy (Spock Prime), Eric Bana (Nero), Bruce Greenwood (Capt. Christopher Pike), Karl Urban (Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy), Zoe Saldana (Nyota Uhura), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Hikaru Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Pavel Chekov), Ben Cross (Sarek), Winona Ryder (Amanda Grayson) and Chris Hemsworth (George Kirk).


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