Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Past Isn't Even The Past

Scrooged (1988): written by Michael O'Donoghue and Mitch Glazer; directed by Richard Donner; starring Bill Murray (Frank Cross), Karen Allen (Claire Phillips), Bobcat Goldthwait (Eliot Loudermilk), David Johansen (Ghost of Christmas Past), Carol Kane (Ghost of Christmas Present), and Alfre Woodard (Grace Cooley): Bill Murray is on record as being displeased with the choice and work of Director Richard Donner. And he's right. Donner wasn't a comic director. How did he get this assignment? 

The best parts of Scrooged lie in the performances and a sharp script by Michael O'Donoghue and Mitch Glazer, the former a legendarily bleak original member of the Saturday Night Live writing team. But Murray's criticism -- that all Donner knew how to do in comedies was get everyone to 'go' louder and louder -- is valid. Putting the twitchy, adenoidal Bobcat Goldthwait in a role that called for finesse and an ability to generate sympathy really didn't help either. Karen Allen is welcome as always as the lost love of Murray's Scrooge-like TV executive, and Carol Kane also does some violently funny slapstick. Lightly recommended, for it could have been so much better with a lighter, funnier hand on the helm.

Elvis & Nixon (2016): written by Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal, and Cary Elwes; directed by Liza Johnson; starring Michael Shannon (Elvis), Kevin Spacey (Nixon), Alex Pettyfer (Jerry Schilling), and Colin Hanks (Krogh): Fizzy, funny imagining of just what went on in December 1970 when Elvis met Nixon. Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey nail the voices and mannerisms of Presley and Tricky Dick, respectively, despite not particularly resembling them physically. It's funny stuff, with maybe a bit too much sentimentality attached to the friendship of Elvis and Jerry Schilling, the latter being what we in the business would once have called The Narrative Focalizer (TM). But when Elvis and Nixon are in a scene, the scene shines, with Colin Hanks offering capable back-up work as one of Nixon's staff. Recommended.

Arrival (2016): adapted from Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life" by Eric Heisserer; directed by Denis Villeneuve; starring Amy Adams (Louise Banks), Jeremy Renner (Ian Donnelly), Forest Whitaker (Colonel Weber), Michael Stuhlbarg (Agent Halpern), and Tzi Ma (General Shang): The first half-hour could have used some strenuous advising from someone in the military so as to lose all the military-movie cliches and counter-factual errors that arise. Once we're inside the alien ship, however, things start to sing in this tale of First Contact. 

It's really Amy Adams' show as an actor -- she's great, conveying both intelligence and heartache as the linguist drafted by the U.S. military to figure out the language of the aliens that just parked their giant contact lens in  Montana. More scenes with the aliens would have been appreciated. Canadian director Denis Villeneuve does some nice work with visuals and sound design here, though once again he's made a movie that seems just about 10 minutes longer than it ideally should be. And the sound design occasionally buries the dialogue, suggesting that Villeneuve may be attempting to emulate the sonic garble of Christopher Nolan.  Recommended.

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