Director: Rod Daniel
Summary: A highschooler discovers that he is a werewolf. And suddenly really good at basketball.
Director: Rod Daniel
Summary: A highschooler discovers that he is a werewolf. And suddenly really good at basketball.
One thing that Zemeckis really has excelled at in his career is taking chances. He was the first director to make a major movie that had actors acting with cartoon characters. He was the first director to use technology that allowed the same actor to interact with himself as another character in the same shot. As a young director he fired his primary actor who had shot nearly all of his scenes and replaced him. He made a movie where over half of it contains virtually no dialogue. He’s not a great director. He seems unable to elevate a mediocre script, leaving good actors out in the cold. But there’s a few things he’s good at, and he’s very good at them.
Death Becomes Her: Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn compete for Bruce Willis’s love, duking it out Mortal Kombat style as they’ve both consumed immortality treatments that literally makes them survive everything. This should have been good, but the script is really lacking. The special effects are good for the time but even at the age of twelve I was really unimpressed with everything.
What Lies Beneath: Michelle Pfeiffer has been seeing a ghost, so she investigates while her professor husband (Harrison Ford) suffers the consequences. It starts out interesting with some genuinely suspenseful scenes, and then completely derails in the final third.
Forrest Gump: Tom Hanks is developmentally disabled and fatherless, learning his lessons in life from his mama Sally Field and his best friend Jenny (Robin Wright). Somehow he is able to join the Army in Vietnam, which leads to a number of crazy successes in life as he becomes a table tennis champion, inspires T-shirts, talks to JFK, runs his own shrimp company with the help of Army buddy Gary Sinise, and so on. It’s certainly engaging and the acting performances are top-notch, but as a dramatic story it does little for me. Plus, his relationship with Jenny really starts to make me uncomfortable by the end.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit: A really cool premise, as the worlds of Hollywood and Toon Town literally meet. The plot is simply a standard detective story, but the jazz comes from real actors engaging with cartoons, completely unheard of 1988. Kathleen Turner does a good job as the sultry Jessica Rabbit, while Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd are capable acting with their toon co-stars. A bit of a novelty these days, but still watchable.
Contact: Based on Carl Sagan’s story of a girl (Jodie Foster) whose father encourages her scientific spirit and then goes and dies on her, fueling her drive into an all-work, no-play life searching the stars. She discovers what is believed to be plans from an alien species to build a spaceship to go visit them. Politics soon enter the discussion which naturally miffs Foster. More drama than science-fiction, exploring and contrasting Foster’s atheist views to the politicians and other scientists who get to decide whether or not she’ll be allowed to make first contact. Matthew McConaughey is fine but he was miscast as Foster’s lover slash Christian counterpart. Foster is superb and really makes the movie watchable.
Back to the Future Part III: The final movie in the trilogy sees Marty and Doc end up in the Old West, trying to stay alive while figuring out how to get the Delorean to work with 1885 technology. As a western it’s a bit lacking, with an obvious set and a non-authentic atmosphere. As a time travel movie it’s lacking, as the movie focuses mostly on it being a western. However, as a character piece, it’s really quite good. Doc’s character grows by leaps and bounds as he falls in love with a schoolteacher (Mary Steenburgen) who was supposed to die, and Christopher Lloyd hits a home run with his performance. Unfortunately, Marty doesn’t really develop for the second movie in a row, and is there just for comic relief (which Fox is good at). Despite its flaws I can’t help but watch it whenever it’s on thanks to all of the charm. I just wish the ending was more satisfying.
Back to the Future Part II: The second movie in the series is utterly preposterous, with the primary characters ignoring the obvious several times, making things harder on themselves just to serve the wacky plot, which sees our main characters time travel relentlessly. From a plot perspective, this movie is only here to set up the third movie. There’s no significant character development. However, it’s a hell of a lot of fun thanks to Zemeckis’ and Bob Gale’s vision of the future as well as forcing Marty and Doc to revisit 1955 and run into their own selves from the previous movie. Fox playing four separate characters (including his daughter) is also fun. Zemeckis is a master at exposition. So many times in these movies Doc has to go on a rant, trying to explain the intricacies of time travel to Marty (and the audience), and makes it interesting every time. Christopher Lloyd helps as usual, as he really becomes his character.
Cast Away: Tom Hanks, a FedEx employee whose life is run by the clock, winds up the sole survivor of a plane crash and finds himself alone on an island without any communication to the civilized world. The movie is bookended by ho-hum drama elements involving Hanks’ relationship with Helen Hunt, but the hour and a half or so that focuses on Hanks’ struggles on the island (and getting off it) is brilliant movie-making. With the only dialogue being Hanks talking to himself (and even that goes away after a while), the movie must rely on Hanks’ acting and Zemeckis’ directing to explore the isolation, fear, and depression that Hanks goes through. They succeed.
Back to the Future: The hallmark time travel movie (and my favorite movies) sees Michael J. Fox accidentally go back in time and accidentally prevent his parents from hooking up. After seeing this at least a hundred times, I can confidently say that Gale and Zemeckis created as flawless a script as possible. While it’s easily watchable for kids thanks to quotable one-liners, fun music and suspenseful action, there are layers and layers of intricacy weaved in to make it watchable by adults repeatedly. The movie never insults the viewer by overexplaining things, all the while effectively getting buy-in to this world where time travel is possible. Easter Eggs are plenty, and repeated viewings reveal double-meaning in nearly every line of dialogue. Zemeckis somehow manages to weave in incest themes without making it trite or uncomfortable. It also helps that Crispin Glover puts in a dynamite performance as Fox’s father. Despite the amazing scripts, I wonder how successful this would have been with a separate cast. I’ve seen a couple of scenes with Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly, and he just didn’t have the comedic energy that Fox has. Plus, Christopher Lloyd has to the best crazy scientist ever. He’s such a master at subtlety, which makes his over-the-top character work.
Other Robert Zemeckis Movies You May Have Seen
A Christmas Carol (2009)
The Polar Express
Romancing the Stone
Burton is one of those directors who just seems better at his job than he really is. He’s always been able to create stunning and imaginative worlds, and he’s able to get good performances out of his actors. But his scripts (he has written about half of his movies) tend to lack subtlety. Also, it’s hard to find a movie of his that doesn’t star Michael Keaton, Winona Ryder, or Johnny Depp (especially Depp). I like Depp just as much as anyone, but I wonder if using him for nearly every major movie of his has limited their potential.
Mars Attacks!: Man, this could have been so good. Lampooning alien invasion flicks with a monster cast (Nicholson, Close, Bening, Fox, Devito, Brosnan, Portman) should have made this a slam dunk, but there’s not much here that’s actually funny. Amusing at times, and maddeningly flat most of the time, coming off too much like the films it’s supposed to be lampooning.
Batman Returns: Been a long time since I’ve seen this, but I remember feeling quite underwhelmed by Devito’s Penguin and Pfeiffer’s CatWoman.
Batman: It’s impossible to compare this to Christopher Nolan’s movies as they shoot for completely different styles. While Nolan’s movies go for the more modern “realistic” superhero, Burton was obviously going for a comic book feel. He does this mostly well. Nicholson’s Joker is really good. Keaton is solid as well. Unfortunately, I’m not a huge fan of comic books so that likely affected my enjoyment.
Beetle Juice: Ghosts hire an exorcist to rid their home of the new alive tenants. Not terribly funny these days, but I still enjoy watching it thanks to the imaginative world Burton creates and a very enthusiastic performance by Keaton. Alec Baldwin is good as usual and Geena Davis and Winona Ryder hold their own.
Edward Scissorhands: An isolated scientist creates Edward (Johnny Depp) and gives him scissors for hands until he can finish the real hands. Unfortunately, he dies before he can do so, and the naive Edward rolls into town. His brief celebrity ends quickly as the prejudiced town members turn against him. Great performance by Depp, but like Pleasantville, it’s easy to choke on all the allegory being shoved down one’s throat.
Other Tim Burton Movies You May Have Seen
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Alice in Wonderland
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Planet of the Apes (2001)
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
Up through 1992, one might predict Meathead would become one of the most hailed directors of all-time. Six of his first seven movies were monster hits (and deservedly so) and won or were nominated for many awards. But then he directed North, considered by Siskel & Ebert one of the worst big-budget films of all-time. Since then, you’d be hard pressed to find a memorable film by him. To be fair, I haven’t seen anything he’s done after 1995, but based on reviews and recommendations, I haven’t exactly been dying to either.
The American President: Aaron Sorkin loves writing his fantasies about society into his scripts. The West Wing fantasizes about democracy working, Newsroom fantasizes about a responsible journalism, A Few Good Men fantasizes about justice against corrupt military officials, and this movie fantasizes about a fair and honest president who sticks to his convictions even in tough times. In fact, Martin Sheen must have impressed Sorkin in this movie as he brought him on to play the president in West Wing. Anyway, The American President is a harmless, charming fantasy. Michael Douglas does what he does, Bening is good as usual, and Michael J. Fox has a mildly funny role.
The Princess Bride: One of the best quote-dropping movies ever, which one normally wouldn’t associate with a movie based on a book. But then you realize WIlliam Goldman, a prolific screenwriter, wrote the book, and it makes sense. The narrative flow is intentionally choppy, which normally would bother me, but it works here because every scene is beyond ridiculous, kind of like a Monty Python movie. Reiner gets most of these actors’ best career performances. Don’t know I’ve ever seen Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, or Wallace Shawn better (except perhaps as Rex in the Toy Story series), and who figured Andre the Giant would make a movie better? It’s also one of Fred Savage’s first appearances and it’s easy to see why he got cast for The Wonder Years a year later. Reiner favorites Christopher Guest and Billy Crystal also have solid performances.
Misery: William Goldman also wrote the script to Misery and Reiner got exceptional performances out of James Caan and Kathy Bates. Many of Stephen King’s novels, especially up to 1990, had been butchered on screen. Goldman and Reiner possibly make it better. A true horror film about a writer who crashes his car and then gets kidnapped by his biggest fan who nurses him back to health. Non-stop tension from beginning to end with at least one horrific visual moment that should make just about everyone curl up into the fetal position.
This is Spinal Tap: The whole idea of a mockumentary, especially about a genre of music (hair metal) I have zero interest in, never appealed to me. But my wife made me watch this a few years ago and I’m forever grateful. Reiner’s first movie is one of his best, with pitch perfect satire and top-notch performances, especially from Christopher Guest. I belly-laughed at least seven or eight times while watching, which is about six more times than most comedies I like.
A Few Good Men: While I love this movie more than most, it may be the best proof of Reiner’s superb direct capabilities. Aaron Sorkin’s stage play and movie script is flawed in his usual way in that he wants to spell out the conflict, tell everyone how the characters are going to solve it, show them doing it, then recapping what they just did. It also had a mild romantic subplot that has mostly been taken out for the movie. There’s definitely problems left, but it’s largely improved from the original script. Reiner also takes two middling actors in Tom Cruise and Demi Moore and gets two of the best performances of their careers. I’ve seen Moore’s character, Commander Jo Galloway, played on stage and it was dreadful. It’s a tough role, and Moore gets it. Meanwhile, Cruise is cast perfectly, as the role calls for a young hot-shot who likes to fling his hands in the air and yell a lot. Kevin Bacon is solid as the government’s attorney, J.T. Walsh is his usual loose cannon, and Kiefer Sutherland always plays a good prick.
Of course, Jack Nicholson is the star. He’s larger than life, thanks in part to his performance, and part Reiner’s camerawork. I think I read somewhere that Nicholson has one of the shortest appearances in a film while getting nominated for best supporting actor. He definitely deserved the nomination.
While I’m gushing, I may as well mention that Marc Shaiman’s score is amazing, chilling in all the right places. I’ve seen the movie at least forty times and can annoyingly recite nearly all of it from beginning to end.
Other Films By Rob Reiner
Stand By Me
When Harry Met Sally
Ghosts of Mississippi
The Story Of Us
Alex & Emma
Rumor Has It…
The Bucket List
The Magic of Belle Isle