Volume 4, Number 02
This Week's Reviews: Orange County.
This Week's Omissions: NONE.
Repertory Review: Glengarry Glen Ross.
Capsule Reviews: Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Joe Somebody.
BY: DAVID PERRY
In Society and Solitude, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "A man builds a fine house: and now he has a master, and a task for life: he is to furnish, watch, show it, and keep in repair, the rest of his days." But what about the progeny brought into this house? I suppose, they instead must turn to the Thomas Wolfe novel title, You Can't Go Home Again.
Jake Kasdan, Colin Hanks, and Schuyler Fisk all face this question; they are all progeny of well regarded talents in the film industry. They suffer from the Jesus' Son conundrum, seemingly coming together in an effort that might prove all three of them on their own. Kasdan (son of director Lawrence and Meg Kasdan), Hanks (son of actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson), and Fisk (daughter of actress Sissy Spacek and art director Jack Fisk) have all seen what its like to live in the shadows of their parents -- Orange County, if a half-hearted effort at times, gets to be their first chance to shine without any notices of who's who -- too bad every review under the sun (as is hard to do when analyzing this film) has pointed out their well known sires.
Orange County follows the attempt of well-meaning surfer-come-top-student Shaun Brumder (Hanks) to get himself into Stanford and out of his posh, seaside Orange County home. Most people would be happy to live in this place, where the weather is great, the women are even better, and the residence means success in business, but Brumder sees Orange County as a world of stuck-up people and loons, including his own family.
His mother (O'Hara) is a wino, who married a drooling geriatric after Shaun's father (Lithgow) left her for some younger girl he met at the gym (Mann). The closest thing Shaun has to a male advisor is his older brother Lance (Black), but he is so often wasted from a night (and day) of nonstop partying with pills and other varied drugs that he looks beyond the needs of his brother. Yes, Lance does love his brother, but he really cannot understand why he would ever want to aspire for college or anything other than giving Lance occasional cups of clean urine for his parole officer.
Shaun is a very bright boy, especially after reading the fictitious novel Straight Jacket by Stanford professor Marcus Skinner (Kline) while mourning the death of one of his surfer friends in a freak run-in with a tsunami wave. Immediately, Shaun becomes intent on getting into the college where he can study at the feet of this life-changing writer. Shaun too wants to write for a living and has even written his own novella about living in Orange County. But that's not enough to get him into the university -- sure, his résumé and test grades are well above the level of Stanford admissions, but his bungling guidance counselor (Tomlin) sends them the wrong transcript.
The rejection of Stanford is devastating and Shaun quickly goes to work with his girlfriend Ashley (Fisk) to find some way to get into the school even if the deadline has long passed. After a meeting with his family throws one chance out, an idea of Lance's causes Shaun to take a road trip to Palo Alto to talk to the dean of admissions (Ramis); Ashley and Lance come to make things even harder.
There is an underlying sentimentality in Orange County that never fits the film, but the satire and darker humor that runs rampant around the two leads makes the film run tightly for its deceptively short 83 minutes. Sure, the plot with the two lovers never really comes to fruition in any matter that really suits the rest of Kasdan's film, but the over-the-top fun of Catherine O'Hara, John Lithgow, and Jack Black all make this at least marginally entertaining for most of the duration. Cameos from Jane Adams, Kevin Kline, Chevy Chase, Garry Marshall, Ben Stiller, and Mike White also liven up various scenes.
Many of the actors and artists in this film have a common connection to the short-lived TV series Freaks and Geeks. I never saw the show, but had always heard that it featured a stunning view of cliques and the unappreciated -- something that Orange County tries hard to do. Mike White is especially engaging in this point with his incredibly inept high school English teacher, a change of pace from the character of Buck he played in his last screenplay, Chuck & Buck.
Hanks seems to be playing the awkward early years of his father's career-- much of his performance is akin to Tom's work in, say, Bachelor Party. But Hanks, like Fisk, never really shows any prowess near comparable to their parents. I mean, no one is expecting either of these youngsters to outdo Tom and Sissy, but the least I ask is that they perform at a level of someone who might actually be able to act in films for a career. People have commented that Hanks and Fisk probably got their parts because of their relations -- I would not doubt it.
Jake Kasdan is another story, however. He last surprised me with the highly under-appreciated Bill Pullman/Ben Stiller vehicle Zero Effect. Now, Kasdan relates much of his story with easy visuals, but a setup that might fit that of his father. Though his reliance of new music is nothing like what we expect from Lawrence Kasdan these days, one need only think of the soundtrack to The Big Chill to veer towards retracting any criticism over this. I especially liked the way Kasdan at one point left me doubting him only to turn around and surprise me: a synchronized dance in the middle of a schoolyard seemed highly out of place at first but then worked when a payoff arrives nearly forty-five minutes later.
It is rare to have movies dealing with high schoolers that
does not depend on a barrage of gross-out jokes for its humor, so Orange County
is all the more refreshing. Yeah, there are a few moments where Black veers towards a
Farrelly brothers movie, but that is inconsequential when what he's doing is twice as
funny as anything found in Saving Silverman and American Pie.
|Glengarry Glen Ross
BY: DAVID PERRY
"When he died -- and by the way he died the death of a salesman, in his green velvet slippers in the smoker of the New York, New Haven and Hartford, going to Boston -- when he died, hundreds of salesmen and buyers were at his funeral. Things were sad on a lotta trains for months after that. In those days there was personality in it, Howard. There was respect, and comradeship, and gratitude in it. Today, it's all cut and dried, and there's not chance for bringing friendship to bear -- or personality. You see what I mean? They don't know me anymore."
That's one of the last ditch remarks Death of a Salesman's Willy Loman tells his boss Howard Wagner. In that line -- part of a much larger monologue -- Arthur Miller gives a bit of foreshadowing, a glance at the future for Loman unless he can do something that might change his preordained demise.
This idea is also found in David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, another tale of distress and desolation from salesmen. In Mamet's world, the men are selling near worthless property to unsuspecting buyers. Well, not all of them are selling; even those who make a living cheating others must have a bad period in their careers.
Glengarry Glen Ross begins with a tight close up on the face of the film's most distressed salesman. He is Shelley "The Machine" Levene (Lemmon), a one-time hotshot salesman that has gotten into a nearly insurmountable rut. He stutters and sweats -- his nerves are more visible than his suit -- and fears for his neck. He is the lowest form of salesmen -- he cannot sell anything. In one of the film's most memorable sequences, Shelley enters the home of a supposedly interested buyer and will not leave when the man at the door makes it quite clear that he is not interested in buying anything. Desperation is not an out for Shelley; it is the only way to go now.
He is the bottom of the totem pole at Rio Rancho Real Estate, and most of his coworkers are not that far away from him in the sales ladder. George (Arkin) is a bit of a putz, following the lead of anyone that will take him by the leash. A salesman is supposed to make people buy things and some personal control is needed, while George nearly possesses none. This makes him the perfect toy for Dave (Harris), who has been doing well but has doubts about his future. It is Dave's intent to force George into stealing the most profitable leads (called the Glengarry leads) and sell them to a nearby competitor with him.
The only person in the firm that is on safe ground is Ricky Roma (Pacino), a cocky little man that is so sure of himself that he does not even go to the mandatory meeting that starts the clockwork this film dials around. In that meeting, an abrasive Rio Rancho rep (Baldwin) comes in and verbally abuses the men in front of him. The monthly sales competition has been changed: 1st place wins a car, 2nd place wins a set of steak knives, and 3rd place is fired.
David Mamet won a Pulitzer Prize for his stage play that would come to life in this film. Glengarry Glen Ross is, perhaps, the finest motion picture adaptation of a play since Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was adapted for the screen by Mike Nichols in 1966. Mamet has one of the finest ears for dialogue ever given to a playwright. When his characters talk, they sound incredibly familiar. Anyone that has ever known a salesman on their days off will recognize this non-stop speech that Mamet brings to his actors.
A list of screenplays by David Mamet reads like a 'best of' dialogue list. The repetitious talk of The Spanish Prisoner, the verbal puzzles of House of Games, and the authentic expletives of Glengarry Glen Ross all stand as formidable examples of Mamet's magic with a typewriter. Adapting his play to the screen, he never really invents sequences that are cinematic but keeps it from seeming staged.
Part of this truth to the film is in the way director James Foley works with his settings. There is a certain clutter to the place, a believable confusion of desks and blackboards and phones that eclipse the hopes and fears of the men that use them constantly daily. Foley uses a huge amount of close-ups and long shots that set the mood and then continue the action with a stationary camera on the subjects. There is one moment that remains especially memorable when Shelley hounds his office manager John (Spacey) to sell him some of the Glengarry leads. The camera cuts forward and back constantly until finally, when it is clear where the conversation is going, Shelley speaks to John in his car with rain streaming down the windows and his integrity draining down into the sewer.
Lemmon has remarked that in Glengarry Glen Ross, he worked with the finest ensemble he had ever encountered. Watching this film, there is nothing to cause me to disagree. Rarely do films have such a cast, where every single moment is perfectly tuned. Supposedly, Mamet had the cast practice the dialogue for weeks before allowing Foley to begin production. I can certainly believe this, every line of dialogue is so fluid that it almost seems like the actors were born to say these words. Spacey, Pacino, Arkin, and Harris all deliver knockout performances that sell this film better than any other actors I can imagine.
And Jack Lemmon? Well, Lemmon gives the performance of his career. That fast talking jokester of Billy Wilder fame turns in a rich performance that eclipses his Oscar winning turn in Save the Tiger. If there were any rhyme or reason to the Academy Awards, the 1992 Best Actor trophy would have not gone to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman (who, by the way, was also nominated as Best Supporting Actor for his performance in this film), but would have been a shining moment for Lemmon, accepting his second Oscar.
Lemmon is the heart of Glengarry Glen Ross. When David Mamet wrote the character of Shelley Levene, I doubt that he had Lemmon in mind, but it certainly feels like this character is the moment of glory for the Jack Lemmon persona. Dramatic actor or comedic, Lemmon never seemed so human, so weak and, all along, so memorable.
As the film ends, with the ironic use of the song
"Blue Skies," the audience is left with Levene and Lemmon and the world that has
just passed before us. Perhaps, we don't know the salesman's life first hand, but post-Glengarry
we can pinpoint what's next in this seedy world. That's the magic of Mamet.
Capsule Reviews: Since things are backlogged and there happens to be two spots in this week's lineup, I have decided to use capsule reviews for Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius and Joe Somebody (plus, they were not viewed in a theatre). Though, as I said in the last capsule review column, these would be better suited if they were called "Flippant Remarks."
|Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
(Dir: John A. Davis, Voices include Debi Derryberry, Megan Cavanagh, Martin Short, Patrick Stewart, Rob Paulsen, Andrea Martin, Carolyn Lawrence, Mark DeCarlo, Crystal Scales, and Frank Welker)
BY: DAVID PERRY
The fact that more children will see this forgettably
innocuous family film than those who saw The Iron Giant is an atrocity only equal
to Ellen Burstyn not receiving the Oscar last year. Jimmy Neutron is a boy genius, I
suppose, but his antics are ho-hum and the comedy mixed in never really solidifies into
anything more than a chuckle. Nevertheless, the elderly teacher, bringing memories of
Jimmy Stewart and Katherine Hepburn in the form of a Peanuts character, is a perk.
(Dir: Joe Pasquin, Starring Tim Allen, Julie Bowen, Kelly Lynch, Hayden Panettiere, James Belushi, Greg Germann, Robert Joy, Patrick Warburton, and Ken Marino)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Tim Allen's third film with director John Pasquin may not
be as bad as Jungle 2 Jungle, but it does come near making The Santa Clause
seem like a work of Buñuel. A by-the-book, cliché-driven comedy with only a few
enjoyable moments, Joe Somebody is hampered from beginning to end with flimsy
characters and overbearing sentimentality at the most inopportune times. Nothing to really
hate, but nothing to really care about either.
|BUY THIS FILM'S
|BUY THIS FILM'S