A Movie A Day #217: Wyatt Earp (1994, directed by Lawrence Kasdan)


Once upon a time, there were two movies about the legendary Western lawman (or outlaw, depending on who is telling the story) Wyatt Earp.  One came out in 1993 and the other came out in 1994.

The 1993 movie was called Tombstone.  That is the one that starred Kurt Russell was Wyatt, with Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton in the roles of his brothers and Val Kilmer playing Doc Holliday.  Tombstone deals with the circumstances that led to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  “I’m your huckleberry,” Doc Holliday says right before his gunfight with Michael Biehn’s Johnny Ringo.  Tombstone is the movie that everyone remembers.

The 1994 movies was called Wyatt Earp.  This was a big budget extravaganza that was directed by Lawrence Kasdan and starred Kevin Costner as Wyatt.  Dennis Quaid played Doc Holliday and supporting roles were played by almost everyone who was an active SAG member in 1994.  If they were not in Tombstone, they were probably in Wyatt Earp.  Gene Hackman, Michael Madsen, Tom Sizemore, Jeff Fahey, Mark Harmon, Annabeth Gish, Gene Hackman, Bill Pullman, Isabella Rossellini, JoBeth Williams, Mare Winningham, and many others all appeared as supporting characters in the (very) long story of Wyatt Earp’s life.

Of course, Wyatt Earp features the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral but it also deals with every other chapter of Earp’s life, including his multiple marriages, his career as a buffalo hunter, and his time as a gold prospector.  With a three-hour running time, there is little about Wyatt Earp’s life that is not included.  Unfortunately, with the exception of his time in Tomstone, Wyatt Earp’s life was not that interesting.  Neither was Kevin Costner’s performance.  Costner tried to channel Gary Cooper in his performance but Cooper would have known better than to have starred in a slowly paced, three-hour movie.  The film is so centered around Costner and his all-American persona that, with the exception of Dennis Quaid, the impressive cast is wasted in glorified cameos.  Wyatt Earp the movie tries to be an elegy for the old west but neither Wyatt Earp as a character nor Kevin Costner’s performance was strong enough to carry such heavy symbolism.  A good western should never be boring and that is a rule that Wyatt Earp breaks from the minute that Costner delivers his first line.

Costner was originally cast in Tombstone, just to leave the project so he could produce his own Wyatt Earp film.  As a big, Oscar-winnng star, Costner went as far as to try to have production of Tombstone canceled.  Ironically, Tombstone turned out to be the film that everyone remember while Wyatt Earp is the film that most people want to forget.

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A Movie A Day #88: Where The Day Takes You (1992, directed by Marc Rocco)


This month, since the site is currently reviewing every episode of Twin Peaks, each entry in Move A Day is going to have a Twin Peaks connection.  Where The Day Takes You is a movie that has not just one but two connections to Twin Peaks.

Where The Day Takes You is an episodic film about young runaways living on the streets of Los Angeles.  Led by 22 year-old King (Dermot Mulroney), who ran away from home when he was 16, the runaways form a surrogate family.  While being constantly harassed by both the police and well-meaning social workers, some of the runaways get addicted to drugs while others turn to prostitution in order to survive.  Some find love.  Some find death.  They all go where the day takes you.  (Not sure if that was the movie’s tag line but it should have been.)

Where The Day Takes You is a gritty and often tough film, though it’s effectiveness is undercut by a predictable ending and the presence of too many familiar faces in the cast.  The runaways are made up of a who’s who of prominent young actors from the 1990s.  Balthazar Getty plays King’s second-in-command.  Sean Astin plays an obviously doomed drug addict.  Alyssa Milano and David Arquette play prostitutes.  Ricki Lake and James Le Gros play comedic relief.  Will Smith, in his film debut, plays a wheelchair-bound runaway.  Christian Slater and Laura San Giacomo show up as social workers while the police are represented by Rachel Ticotin and Adam Baldwin.  Everyone gives a good performance but the film would have worked better with unknown actors or even real runaways.  No matter how good a performance Sean Astin gives as a heroin addict, he is always going to be Sean Astin and it is always going to be difficult to look at him without saying, “I might not be able to carry the ring but I can carry you!”

The movie’s first Twin Peaks connection is that Lara Flynn Boyle, who played innocent Donna Hayward on Twin Peaks, plays innocent runaway Heather in Where The Day Takes You.  The role is cliché but Boyle shows the same charm that she showed while playing Donna.

The movie’s second Twin Peaks connection is more unexpected.  Kyle MacLachlan is effectively cast against type as Ted, the drug dealer who keeps most of the runaways hooked on heroin and who is perfectly willing to leave an overdosed junkie in a garbage bin.  Ted is about as far from Dale Cooper as you can get.

A Movie A Day #73: Bitter Harvest (1993, directed by Duane Clark)


Travis Graham (Stephen Baldwin, before he found God) is a doofus who owns a farm.  His late father sent all of the family’s money to a crooked televangelist but he did leave Travis a valuable coin collection.  But then two blondes enter his life.  Kelly Ann (Jennifer Rubin) is a penniless hitchhiker who needs a place to stay and a bed to sleep in.  Jolene (Patsy Kensit) is a British realtor who says she wants to help Travis sell his farm.  Faster than you can say “I don’t know the exact pronunciation but I believe it’s ménage à trois,” that’s exactly what happens.  Travis can’t believe his luck but it turns out that Kelly Ann and Jolene have plans of their own.  Then, in a strangely unrelated subplot, a banker robber who shot the local sheriff (M. Emmett Walsh) shows up at the farm.  Travis kills the bank robber but then Kelly Ann and Jolene start pressuring him to use the robber’s plan to rob a bank himself.

This is one of the many strange movies from the increasingly strange career of Stephen Baldwin.  Now that he’s best known for evangelizing and appearing in celebrity-themed reality shows (including, most infamously, two seasons of The Celebrity Apprentice), it is easy to forget that Stephen Baldwin was once a good character actor who, with the exception of The Usual Suspects, apparently could not pick a good script if his life depended upon it.  His performance as the socially backward Travis is often strange (at times, he seems to be channeling Lenny from Of Mice and Men) but always interesting.  Fans of 90s neo-noir will also be happy to see Delusion’s Jennifer Rubin, playing yet another mysterious and dangerous temptress.  Unfortunately, Bitter Harvest falls apart because of an implausible script and too many loose ends but, until it does, the sultry combination of Jennifer Rubin and Patsky Kensit keeps things watchable.

One final note: The sheriff’s son is played by Adam Baldwin.  Even though the two are not actually related, everyone in the 90s assumed that they were and this makes Bitter Harvest a double Baldwin film.

A Movie A Day #25: Next of Kin (1989, directed by John Irvin)


next-of-kinTruman Gates (Patrick Swayze) may have been raised in Appalachia but, now that he lives in Chicago, he’s left the old ways behind.  He has a job working as a cop and his wife (Helen Hunt) is pregnant with their first child.  When Truman’s younger brother, Gerald (Bill Paxton), shows up in town and asks for Truman’s help, Truman gets him a job as a truck driver.  But, on his first night on the job, Gerald’s truck is hijacked by a Sicilian mobster named Joey Rosellini (Adam Baldwin) and Gerald is killed.  Truman’s older brother, Briar (Liam Neeson), soon comes to Chicago and declares a blood feud on the mob.

Of the many action films that Patrick Swayze made between Dirty Dancing and Ghost, Roadhouse may be the best known but Next of Kin is the best.  Next of Kin spends as much examining the family dynamics of Rosellini’s family as it does with Truman’s, suggesting that there is not much of a difference between the two groups.  There’s even a scene where Joey’s uncle (played by Andreas Katsulas) tells Joey that the Sicily was the Appalachia of Italty.  Next of Kin also has a better supporting cast than most of the films that Swayze made during this period.  Along with Paxton and Neeson, the hillbillies are represented by actors like Ted Levine and Michael J. Pollard while Ben Stiller has an early role as Joey’s cousin.  Patrick Swayze gives one of his better performances as Truman but the entire movie is stolen by Liam Neeson, who is a surprisingly believable hillbilly.

Dance Scenes that I Love: Aidan Quinn, Daryl Hannah, and Adam Baldwin in Reckless & Judge Reinhold and Nicolas Cage in Zandalee!


Hi, everyone!

Tonight, I am going to share two dance scenes that I love!

Why?

Because I love dancing and, even more importantly, I love our wonderful readers!

Our first scene was suggested to me by Valerie Troutman.  It’s from a 1984 film called Reckless.  I haven’t even seen this film but I liked this little scene.  The dancing starts at 2:20 and let’s just say that you’ll never look at Aidan Quinn the same way again.

Our second scene is one that I’ve shared before but it’s just such an odd little scene that I feel like I have to share it again.  Who knows — maybe someone out there is depressed and could use some cheering up.  In this scene from 1991’s Zandalee, Judge Reinhold and Nicolas Cage share a dance while Erika Anderson watches.

Enjoy!

Embracing the Melodrama #32: Ordinary People (dir by Robert Redford)


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For the past seven days, I’ve been reviewing — in chronological order — fifty of the most memorable melodramas ever filmed.  We started with a silent film from 1916 and now, we have reached the 80s.  What better way to kick off the decade than by taking a look at the 1980 Best Picture winner, Ordinary People?

Directed by Robert Redford, Ordinary People tells the story of the upper middle class Jarrett family.  On the surface, the Jarretts appear to be the perfect family.  Calvin Jarrett (Donald Sutherland) has a successful career.  Beth (Mary Tyler Moore) keeps a perfect home and appears to be the ideal suburban matriarch.  However, one summer, their oldest son drowns in a sailing accident and their youngest son, sensitive Conrad (Timothy Hutton), attempts to commit suicide.  After spending four months in a psychiatric hospital, Conrad come back home and the family struggles to put their lives back together.  Even though he starts to see a therapist (Judd Hirsch) and starts dating his classmate Jeannine (Elizabeth McGovern), Conrad still struggles with his feelings of guilt over having survived.  Beth’s struggle to maintain a facade of normalcy leads to several fights between her and Conrad with Calvin trapped in the middle.

Among my fellow film bloggers, there’s always going to be a very vocal group that is going to hate Ordinary People because it won the Oscar for best picture over challenging black-and-white films directed by Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull) and David Lynch (The Elephant Man).  They always tend to complain that Ordinary People is a conventional film that tells a conventional story and that it was directed by a very conventional director.  More than once, I’ve seen an online film critic refer to Ordinary People as being a “big budget Lifetime movie.”

Well, you know what?

I love Lifetime.  Lifetime is the best network on television and to me, a big budget Lifetime movie would be the best Lifetime movie of all.  And, at the risk of alienating all of my film-loving friends, if I had to choose between watching Raging Bull and Ordinary People, I’m going to pick Ordinary People every time.  Raging Bull is visually stunning and features great performances but it’s also two hours spent watching an incredibly unlikable human being beating the crap out of anyone who is foolish enough to love him.  Ordinary People may essentially look like a TV show but it’s also about characters that you can understand and that, as the film progresses, you grow to truly care about.

Yes, I do wish that the character of Beth had been given more of a chance to talk about her feelings and it’s hard not to feel that Ordinary People places too much blame on the mother.  But, even so, the film still ends with vague — if unlikely — hope that Beth will eventually be able to move past her anger and reconnect with her family.  The film may be hard on Beth but it never gives up on her.  That’s what distinguishes Ordinary People for me.  In many ways, it’s a very sad film.  It’s a film that was specifically designed to make you cry and I certainly shed a few tears while I watched it.  But, even with its somewhat ambiguous ending, Ordinary People is also a very optimistic movie.  It’s a movie that says that, as much pain as we may have in our life,we can recover and life can go on and it’s okay to be sad and its also okay to be happy.

And that’s an important lesson to learn.

(That said, if I had been alive and an Academy voter in 1981, I would have voted for The Elephant Man.)

And, for all you Oscar lovers out there, here are clips of Timothy Hutton and Robert Redford winning Oscars for their work on Ordinary People.