Tag Archives: Yeardley Smith

City Slickers (1991, Ron Underwood)

City Slickers is a mid-life crisis comedy. I had forgotten about that aspect of it. All three principals–Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby and Daniel Stern–start the movie in a funk. Well, actually only Crystal. The other two’s problems reveal themselves throughout. Especially Kirby. His backstory takes so long to reveal, it strains believability. It’s not believable his friends would know so little about him.

Anyway, in order for the movie to work, it has to be believable these problems will work themselves out at the end and the trio will be able to happily get on with their lives. It’s a comedy after all.

Except it’s not really about the three of them, it’s about Crystal. So if Crystal’s problem can work itself out… the movie works itself out.

And, within the constraints of the film, it does work. Underwood is able to sell it. It doesn’t make up for the dragging parts of the film, but it does make it work. In fact, it’s a somewhat strange resolution. It’s not subtle, though they never verbalize it; verbalizing it would make Crystal’s character a little… unlikable actually.

Underwood does a good job except when he’s repeatedly zooming in for effect. It just doesn’t work.

Crystal, Kirby and Stern are all good. Crystal gets better when he’s dramatic. Jack Palance and Crystal are great together. The supporting cast in general is strong.

Marc Shaiman’s music is a weak spot.

City Slickers has its ups and downs but it’s fine.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Underwood; written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by O. Nicholas Brown; music by Marc Shaiman; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Irby Smith; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Billy Crystal (Mitch Robbins), Daniel Stern (Phil Berquist), Bruno Kirby (Ed Furillo), Patricia Wettig (Barbara Robbins), Helen Slater (Bonnie Rayburn), Jack Palance (Curly Washburn), Noble Willingham (Clay Stone), Tracey Walter (Cookie), Josh Mostel (Barry Shalowitz), David Paymer (Ira Shalowitz), Bill Henderson (Dr. Ben Jessup), Jeffrey Tambor (Lou), Phill Lewis (Dr. Steven Jessup), Kyle Secor (Jeff), Dean Hallo (T.R.), Karla Tamburrelli (Arlene Berquist) and Yeardley Smith (Nancy).


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Maximum Overdrive (1986, Stephen King)

Maximum Overdrive confuses me a little. I thought–given the movie opens with the writer and director being insulted by a cash machine–Stephen King wasn’t going for anything… well, artistic is a stretch, so maybe genuine. Almost immediately following is a scene where a bunch of watermelons crash into car windshields to humorous effect. It certainly seems like King is well aware Overdrive has the potential to amuse and divert and nothing else….

I mean, he couldn’t have thought the acting was good, right? Emilio Estevez gives what could–I’m not a Estevez aficionado, I’m just guessing–be the worst performance of his career, if not the Estevez clan as a whole (though I think that pronouncement is something of a stretch). He affects a terrible Southern accent and appears to have the same backstory as his character in his own auteur debut, Wisdom, which begs the additional question–is King mocking his leading man?

The movie plays like some guy off the street got a million dollars to make a movie (except King got ten million from Dino De Laurentiis, in one of cinema history’s sounder financial investments). King’s got some neat ideas in the picture–though I think cool might be the better term… cool ideas–and some of them are competently pulled off. I really wish the unrated, ultra-violent version were available, just for the visuals. Maximum Overdrive is not scary, not once, not in the slightest. It’s a goofy sci-fi movie with aliens–it’s like Transformers without the transforming. But King clearly does enjoy himself during some of the movie.

Except it isn’t during the terrible scenes with Estevez or romantic interest Laura Harrington. Harrington is an unmitigated disaster–Overdrive rightly ended her career, at least for theatrical releases. Some of it–the lousy dialogue, could be construed as King’s fault… but she plays it all so straight, it’s like she doesn’t realize she’s delivering bad dialogue. Estevez doesn’t seem to be in on the joke either.

At least Pat Hingle relishes in his role, even if it’s to limited success. Yeardley Smith’s terrible too. Actually, the only good performance is probably John Short.

Anyway, King’s intent here gets confused at the end. Fifteen year-old Holter Graham (he’s real bad too, I forgot about him) is running around with an assault rifle, to the point it’s funny–not only does King run a kid over with a steamroller earlier, he gives another one an assault rifle to play with–only to have what seems to be an attempt at an honest scene. Graham’s father dies early on and after avenging him, Graham doesn’t want to touch the rifle again. It’s earnestly handled, which is a big mistake. If King had mocked the scene… at least it would have been fun.

King’s direction is singularly unimpressive. I don’t think he has one “good” shot in the entire movie and only a handful are bad enough to elicit laughter. His handling of the South is funny; he ridicules it in a way you wouldn’t expect a major motion picture to do… I guess he wasn’t worried about box office returns. The much-hyped (I guess it was back then, wasn’t it?) music from AC/DC is occasionally effective, even if they are just ripping off John Carpenter’s style.

In the interest of transparency, I need to mention it took me forever to get through the movie. If I’d gone to see it in a theater, I probably would have walked. There are long stretches when nothing dumb and funny happens and it’s just Estevez and Harrington–not even any gore. The gore’s actually not very gory and I can’t imagine why King had to cut any of it (thirteen seconds were infamously cut to make the R rating).

Wait… there was one decent sequence. Graham’s biking through a residential neighborhood where everyone’s been killed by some appliance or another (I won’t get started on how the possessed trucks and appliances don’t make any sense). It’s uncanny and effective.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen King; written by King, based on his story; director of photography, Armando Nannuzzi; edited by Evan A. Lottman; music by AC/DC; production designer, Giorgio Postiglione; produced by Martha De Laurentiis; released by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group.

Starring Emilio Estevez (Bill Robinson), Pat Hingle (Hendershot), Laura Harrington (Brett), Yeardley Smith (Connie), John Short (Curtis), Ellen McElduff (Wanda June), J.C. Quinn (Duncan), Christopher Murney (Camp Loman), Holter Graham (Deke) and Frankie Faison (Handy).


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As Good as It Gets (1997, James L. Brooks)

As I recall, there were lots of production issues with As Good as It Gets, specifically in terms of boosting Cuba Gooding Jr.’s role (after winning his Oscar) and maybe shortening Skeet Ulrich’s. It all shows, as does the uneasy rewrite Brooks did of Mark Andrus’s script. I have no idea what Andrus’s original script read like, but the filmed version is a confused mess. A lot of As Good as It Gets feels like the filmmakers grafted the Helen Hunt character and plot on to the Jack Nicholson, Greg Kinnear, and cute dog plot–especially given how there’s a natural flow to that plot, but not a natural one to the romance. The final scenes with Kinnear and Nicholson play really well, while the final scene with Nicholson and Hunt plays like a romantic comedy unsure how to finish and doing the best it can.

The problem with As Good as It Gets–one encompassing the script problems too–is the lack of atmosphere. It’s competently directed, but artlessly made (John Bailey’s photography is dull and Hans Zimmer’s score is trying for cute). A lot of it filmed in California–sitting in for New York–and while it doesn’t quite show, the tone is wrong. It feels like a sitcom, especially in the first hour with the scenes at the restaurant. It’s as real as an episode of “Friends” and a lot of the pseudo-quirky casting lends itself to that tone–Jamie Kennedy in a practically dialogue-less role, Harold Ramis popping in (even if Ramis is really funny). And the lack of weight to Hunt’s kid’s medical problems. Seven and a half years of dire medical problems get wiped away in order to make for an easy movie. The lack of any real medical reasoning for Nicholson’s condition (he’s a bigot, where’s he get the pill to fix that one?). The absence of resolution to Kinnear’s assault… As Good as It Gets wipes them all away.

The (very) general filmmaking competence and good performances carry it. Gooding is a lot of fun and any additional scenes for him are welcome. Ulrich is awful, but he’s barely there. The Oscar-winners… well, neither of them deserved them, especially not Hunt. She’s fine, but all of her acting tricks are the same she used on “Mad About You.” And her sometimes implied Brooklyn accent is mistake. Nicholson’s good, but it’s kind of pointless. It’s not an ambitious performance for him–and the scene where he talks about playing the piano, bringing up Five Easy Pieces, just reminds he should have been doing something much better. Then there’s the one who didn’t win, Kinnear, who certainly deserved it. Kinnear’s performance is fantastic, as he brings this cookie cutter character to a real level. Only Kinnear manages to convince he’s not a sitcom character.

Given James L. Brooks’s pedigree, As Good as It Gets ought to be a lot better. But it’s amiable and well-paced for two hours plus and occasionally real funny. And a lot of the acting makes it worthwhile… but it’s a shame about Brooks.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by James L. Brooks; screenplay by Mark Andrus and Brooks, based on a story by Andrus; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Richard Marks; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Bridget Johnson, Kristi Zea and Brooks; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Jack Nicholson (Melvin Udall), Helen Hunt (Carol Connelly), Greg Kinnear (Simon Bishop), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Frank Sachs), Skeet Ulrich (Vincent), Shirley Knight (Beverly), Yeardley Smith (Jackie) and Lupe Ontiveros (Nora).


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