Tag Archives: Richard Dreyfuss

Polar

Duncan is two weeks away from a cushy retirement. He can’t wait. But his former employer is thinking better of letting him escape to Florida, or whatever it is that ex-assassins do when they’re all used up. So they pit him against an elite army of young killers and hope nature will take its course.

I kind of love how director Jonas Åkerlund introduces his team; the film’s opening scene makes me shockingly optimistic that I may actually enjoy this film. Duncan (Mads Mikkelsen) is very much the classic, gritty assassin, but many of other characters seem to belong to some heightened reality. Åkerlund isn’t afraid to establish Polar as a little mv5bzdcyn2iyywutmzy0ny00mza5lwfhmgutmgy5ndqwmdbiotizxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntcwmti4mtc@._v1_sx1777_cr0,0,1777,875_al_outside the normal bounds of action thrillers, and I admire that, though I quickly lost my patience with his clumsy stabs at auteurism. And I don’t mean to imply that he shouldn’t have the opportunity to put his flashy  mark on things, only that you have to have 110% of the talent and style to pull off such a ballsy attempt.

The movie is overstuffed with cartoonish deaths and gruesome flashbacks, including a crucifixion that Jesus Christ himself would find cruel and unusual. It’s so busy being cool and shocking and weird that it mostly forgets to be a movie that makes sense or is watchable. If you think that kind of thing is overrated, then hey, Netflix is catering to your dark and closeted fantasies. I wanted to celebrate Polar’s oddball tendencies, but it does as much to alienate even the most open-minded audiences as it does to stoke our need for something we haven’t seen before.

Despite my misgivings, I must admit that Mads Mikkelsen exudes mustachioed magnificence. If you don’t mind wading through the hot mess, or if you have an appetite , not to mention a high tolerance for, the strange and unusual, this role is truly something special for him.

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The Last Laugh

Al Hart (Chevy Chase) is a retired showbiz manager touring the local senior living facilities with his granddaughter and frankly, he’s just not feeling it. He’s not ready for death’s waiting room. So when his retirement home tour guide happens to be his first client, Buddy Green (Richard Dreyfuss), it seems kind of fortuitous. Buddy is a stand-up comedian who quit the business 50 years ago, just as he was about to break on Johnny Carson. He went into podiatry instead. But with nothing to lose, and nothing better to do, the two concoct a scheme to hit the road and work the comedy club circuit to see if they can mount a comeback that’s been 50 years in the making.

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The jokes are as old as the stars delivering them. The formula’s as stale as the butterscotch candies in their pockets. But Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfuss prove the point their characters are trying to make: there’s still some gas left in the tank. Chase is charming in a doddering kind of way, but Dreyfuss still has that killer zing. If Buddy’s stand-up isn’t exactly fresh, Dreyfuss at least delivers it with some salty panache. They’re the ones who sell the material. And since neither has had a notable starring role in a film this century, it’s kind of nice to see some friendly, if wrinkly, faces.

Still, no one’s going to mistake this for a great movie. It’s on the forgettable side even while you’re watching it, so if memory’s the first thing to go, we’re in trouble. But if you’re looking for some “easy watching” and you don’t mind an oldies station, this movie is the perfect antidote to loud, explody, VFX-heavy blockbusters. Plus it’s got Andie MacDowell, Chris Parnell, and Lewis Black in small doses, so you can’t go wrong exactly, you just wish for more right. But I guess past a certain age, we all take what we can get.

Practical & Impractical Effects in Close Encounters of the Third Kind

According to a classification system that goes unexplained in the film, a close encounter of the first kind would be a UFO sighting. The second kind is finding proof of alien life. The third kind, as you likely know, is making actual contact with aliens themselves. A fourth kind has since been named and might have applied had Spielberg known of it; the fourth involves alien abduction.

Close Encounters very nearly featured what would have been early attempts at CGI. Director Steven Spielberg hired animator Colin Cantwell to create a CGI test of three UFOs floating over a stadium. The single-shot test took three whole weeks to complete, which immediately ruled it out in terms of the film, but it was one of the first computer generated images ever created for a film.

Spielberg’s next idea was even crazier. He wanted his aliens to have a gliding mobility (easily distinguished from human bi-pedal walking). So the obliging production team rigged up a grey spandex suit, slapped it on an orangutan, and put that orangutan on roller skates. What could go wrong? Well, turns out, it was a pretty smart monkey who knew a bad idea when it was strapped to his feet, so he sat down, removed the skates, and deliberately crawled to his handler.They never even got a screen test out of him.

After the monkeys came the mimes: they filmed the aliens mingling among human technicians played by mimes moving in slow motion so that when the film was sped up, the aliens appeared to be moving really fast while the technicians appeared to be moving at normal speed. They scrapped this too.

Finally the resorted to kids. It’s 6 year old elementary school girls (who move more gracefully than boys, Spielberg thought) in those costumes made especially for them and heavily backlit to achieve the proper silhouette. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond overexposed the scenes so they would appear fuzzy and diffuse, and this helps them not look like little girls in rubber suits. Although, some of the shots in the climatic scenes are miniatures: the bright light coming out of the ship was created by a set of Christmas lights strung up on the back of a metal plate, behind little tiny alien figures. This was composited into a shot with real-life actors.

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A special 9-foot version of the mothership was built for that one spindly-legged alien which appears briefly, spreading its arms in a peaceful gesture. That was a marionette prototype made by puppeteer Bob Baker. The marionette idea was nixed but “Daddy Long Legs” made it into the film.

But what about that final farewell where the alien signs the musical notes back to the humans? For that, Spielberg recruited a special effects artist by the name of Carlo Rambaldi who created a fully articulated steel, aluminum, and fiberglass animatronic puppet that Spielberg nicknamed “Puck.” Puck’s expressions were based on photos of Cary Guffey, the child actor who plays little Barry. The puppet was operated by a crew of seven puppeteers, with Spielberg himself controlling the final articulation before the alien leaves to go to the mothership.

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Greg Jein

Incidentally, the aliens were meant to appear to be floating around in their ship, it being zero gravity or thereabouts. Even Roy was supposed to be seen to float into it as he approached. But the crew just couldn’t hide that many wires. They did, however, achieve weightlessness for Richard Dreyfuss in an early scene in his pick up truck. the truck was put on a turntable and flipped 360 degrees!

[During filming, Spielberg kept ruminating on Puck and wondered “What if this little guy didn’t get back on the mothership?” – that, of course, was the germination of E.T., whom Rambaldi would also go on to design.]

A note on those musical notes, which aren’t really a practical effect per se, but are such an iconic but humble sequence, we can’t not talk about composer John Williams’ brilliance for just a moment. Williams and Spielberg worked together a year before shooting even began to make sure they had the perfect sequence. Williams was originally working with 7 notes but since they wanted a simple greeting, they pared it down to 5 notes. Williams whipped up 100 permutations based on the Solfège system of musical education and together they whittled it down. Tuba player Jim Self is the “musical voice” of the mothership in the final edit.

A second note on how to get a great performance out of little Cary Guffey who’d never acted before. Spielberg has of course gone on to work with loads of child actors, but Guffey is among the youngest. Spielberg would unwrap presents just out of view of the camera so that Guffey would smile and point (you can also hear him excitedly shout “Toys! Toys!”). To get him to show fear, he had two crew members dress up in costumes. A false cardboard wall would drop, revealing a clown, and the poor kid would frown in surprise. Then a second wall drops, revealing a gorilla, and that was pretty scary. So the gorilla whips off his mask, revealing friendly makeup man Bob underneath and ta da – you got yourself a performance, or at least a series of emotions that look very real on tape.

Douglas Trumbull was the visual effects supervisor on Close Encounters of the Third Kind who came up with techniques for this film that would lead to advances in motion control photography, which is how you combine pictures of miniatures with pictures of full-scale elements.

The mother ship was designed by Ralph McQuarrie and built by Greg Jein. Its aesthetic was inspired by an oil refinery Spielberg saw at night in India. Instead of the metallic hardware look used in Star Wars, which was coming out the same year, they emphasized a more light-heavy, luminescent look for the UFOs (Dennis Muren, who’d just finished up with Star Wars, put a tiny R2-D2 on the underside of the mothership). One UFO model was an oxygen mask with lights attached to it. They experimented with all kinds of ordinary objects that had interesting shapes. The miniatures were filmed in dark, smoke-filled rooms so their lights would cut through the fog and look super cool.

Douglas Trumbull created the cloud effects by injecting white paint into tanks half filled with salt water and half filled with fresh water.

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When asked in 1990 to select a single “master image” that summed up his film career, Spielberg chose the shot of Barry opening his living room door to see the blazing orange light from the UFO. “That was beautiful but awful light, just like fire coming through the doorway. [Barry’s] very small, and it’s a very large door, and there’s a lot of promise or danger outside that door.”

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What About Bob

5b1d9c22c932a39e5ba226ef24166eadBob (Bill Murray), a needy neurotic and narcissist, is thrown for a loop when his therapist (Richard Dreyfuss) goes on vacation. Unable and unwilling to take no for an answer, Bob tracks Dr. Leo to his lakeside cottage and imposes himself the family.

Sean and I are off to the cottage this weekend and we intend to have a lot more relaxation and a lot less surprise guests. Of course, if a client of mine did show up unexpectedly, it wouldn’t go quite like it does in the movie. Bob is not charismatic, he’s obnoxious and self-centered. And sure Dr. Leo’s a dick, but Bob could be dangerous and has already proven himself to be a liar and a stalker. Not only is it inappropriate for Bob to show up, it’s also strictly against the rules. I would be calling the cops. Sean would not be bonding with him under any circumstance. This movie really riles me up in between bouts of cracking me up.

While I find this movie professionally disturbing, I also find it hilarious, because: Bill Murray. I love Bill Murray. He’s kind of an ass, and impenetrable, and yet somehow I adore him. He has weird methods on-set, rewriting lines and improv-ing, which tends to get the goats of a lot of his co-stars (Richard Dreyfuss famously included, plus Chevy Case, Richard Donner, Lucy Liu, and McG, who claims Murray head-butted him; Dan Aykroyd would nickname him The Murricane for such behaviour). He took a circuitous path to comedy, attending college for pre-med but then billmurraydropping out after being arrested for marijuana possession. He then ended up doing National Lampoon Radio Hour with Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, and John Belushi, and eventually met back up with them on SNL as well. He was a bankable comedy star throughout the 80s and 90s, and then reinvented his career more recently as a dramatic actor, taking on roles where he’s often cynical or depressed (or both!) rather than the flat-out nuts of What About Bob.

Bill Murray is a Hollywood Luddite – he has no agent, and no business manager. Pete Docter wanted him for the voice of Sulley in Monsters, Inc. but had no way of contacting him and had to move on. Murray went on to voice Garfield instead because he was anxious to work with the Coen brothers. Sound fishy? You’re right. The script is co-written by a Joel Cohen, but not that Joel Coen. A business manager may have sussed that out. He’s also missed out on roles in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Squid and the Whale, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Little Miss Sunshine – the latter being the only one he regrets.

mrmurrayBill Murray is an icon with legendary status among his many fans. An entire website is dedicated to telling the best Bill Murray stories. He’s elusive but if you catch him on the right day, he can be surprisingly engaging. He has inspired all kinds of tributes, from the Bill Murray colouring book my sister sent me for Christmas, to Cook Your Own Food – A Bill Murray Scratch And Sniff  , which depicts the sights and smells of various Murray movies.

So while I’d freak out of Bob showed up at the cottage, Bill I’d welcome with a glass of scotch and open arms. Wouldn’t you?

 

The Goodbye Girl

In 1977. A 30 year-old Richard Dreyfuss became the youngest ever to win the Oscar for Best Actor, a record he held until 2003 when a slightly younger Adrien Brody dethroned him. He was awarded this honour not for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which was released that same year and still considered a classic, but for this rom com (I hate this movie already for making me use that term) from playwright Neil Simon. Marsha Mason plays Paula who arrives home to discover that, not only has her actor boyfriend left her, but he’s also has sublet the apartment to another actor named Elliot (Dreyfuss), leaving her and her ten year-old daughter homeless. Paula and Elliot reluctantly agree to share the apartment and they clash for awhile before falling in love.

What it’s lost with age. As soon as The Goodbye Girl begins, it ffeels old. The score, dialogue, and hammy acting all seem to come from a 70s cheesy sitcom rather than a Hollywood classic. I’ve always admired Simon as a writer and, when I don’t feel like cooking, I can sometimes be found in my local Indian restaurant reading one of his plays while I eat- often laughing out loud. But his lines are too often fumbled by the actors here and it’ll only be when playing some of them over in my head moments later that I realize that it was actually a great line.

What still holds up. Honestly, not much. Things pick up a llittle when Elliot shows up and, whether or not the performance is Oscar-worthy, Dreyfuss has a lot of fun with the dialogue and is almost always interesting to watch. Even he, though, is sometimes a little over-the-top for my taste. The funniest lines and the funniest moments are all his though. Watching him attempt to reluctantly play Richard III as flamboyantly gay is probably the highlight.

Bottom line. I hate to pick on a movie that is so old and inoffensive but I can’t see The Goodbye Girl having much to offer a modern audience. I don’t disagree with the Academy for giving Dreyfuss the Oscar that year, I just wish it was for Close Encounters.

American Graffiti

In 1973. After sitting on the finished film for six months, Universal finally got around to releasing this relatively low-budget surprise hit that was directed and co-written by a young George Lucas. Different in almost every way from the films that Lucas would later become known for, American Graffiti is inspired by memories of his youth cruising around Modesto, California while trying to pick up girls. Set in 1962 during the last night before two high school grads head off to college, four friends spend one last hilariously wild night driving around the strip trying to get laid, find someone to buy beer for them, and give a clingy 12 year-old the slip.

What it’s lost with age. Even what’s dated kind of works. Even at the time, the clothes and expressions were from what Lucas thought of as a more innocent time. How can you not love a movie with lines like “Don’t you think the Beach Boys are boss?” and “Go kiss a duck, marblehead!”? I do have to admit though that it was bizarre watching Harrison Ford as the cocky cowboy looking to race the fastest kid in town.

What still holds up. Pretty much everything. Lucas apparently wrote the script around the rock and roll music of the 50s and early 60s and the classics play throughout the entire movie through car radios and at the sock hop. The film follows several characters throughout this one night on the strip and the stories are constantly interesecting as our heroes run into each other often yelling through car windows. Everywhere they go, they seem to run into someone they know and before long the strip starts to feel like home for us too. This style keep s the pace as fast as an Indiana Jones film.

Nice surprise for modern audiences. George Lucas did make one classic film that he didn’t eventually ruin with prequels and sequels.

Bottom line. You can feel Lucas’ love for this time and place in almost every scene. But you don’t have to be nostalgic for the music, cars, and styles of the 50s and 60s to love this movie. It’s like Superbad with less dick drawings. I can’t think of many teen party movies that were made by such a celebrated and talented filmmaker. Rent it.