Tag Archives: Timothy Hutton

David Koepp’s Secret Window

David Koepp’s Secret Window is a terrific little psychological chiller, with just the right doses of fright and camp. Based on a Stephen King short, it’s got everything you’d want in a little vignette from the master: secluded wilderness setting, paranoia, whacked out protagonist, cerebral mind games wrapped in a classically meta package, the story being about a writer itself. The problem with the film is that it has a twist, and in this day and age after the loss of cinema’s innocence, everyone and their mother has seen a film with some variation of the revelation that Window has to offer. But this is not the film’s problem, really, because it hails from a simpler time back in the late 90’s, early 00’s, when twists like that were still somewhat new. The Sixth Sense hype had barely died down, the new age of psychological horror hadn’t yet dawned and stuff like this seemed really fresh. This one is terrific on its terms though, and has a certifiably loony central performance from Johnny Depp as Mort Rainey, a depressed nut-job novelist who’s holed himself up in a cabin on a lake to cook up his newest book, but really he’s just there to mope about his wife (Maria Bello) leaving him for the considerably less dreamy Timothy Hutton. His bout of self loathing is interrupted when freaky stranger Shooter (John Turturro) shows up at his door and aggressively accuses him of plagiarism. Turturro plays the guy in a weird Amish getup and with enough menace in his southern drawl to rival his perverse lunatic Jesus from The Big Lebowski. Anywho, after that Depp descends into sketchy paranoia, unsure of what’s real, who’s real, who double-crossed who and who’s trying to get the better of him. Set in rural Maine as per usual, this is classic King and benefits a lot from Depp, who wisely chooses to make his performance fun, engaging and just cartoonish enough where other actors might try to be too realistic or serious. If you watch it these days in the wake of countless other thrillers that have filled the gulf of time between 2004 and now, you might not be all that impressed. Try and retain your sense of wonder in terms of the genre, you may have a blast. I always enjoy this one.

-Nate Hill

Advertisements

B Movie Glory: The Alphabet Killer


The Alphabet Killer is a silly one, a stone-serious account of some serial killer out there that tries to go the route of straightforward, down to earth fact tracking, and then deliberately messes up it’s own tone by tossing in cheap, ineffective ghostly gimmicks that seem so out of place one wonders if the editor accidentally spliced in frames from an episode of Supernatural or something. The film would have been something pretty decent without those jarring schoolyard level scare tactics tossed in, but I guess shit happens. This is very, very loosely based on an actual set of murders over in Rochester, NY, but what actual similarities to that case we see here is beyond my knowledge and, I suspect, pretty scant. What we get is Dollhouse veteran and cutie pie Eliza Dushku as a determined cop, hunting a killer of children all over upstate New York, while an impressive load of a character actors make slightly unnecessary yet well acted cameos, if only to pad the pre credit billing on the DVD cover and boost rentals. Tom Noonan, who has a running theme in his career of playing exactly the type of beast she’s tracking here, switches it up to play her stern Police Captain boss. Michael Ironside briefly plays a belligerent small town sheriff who withholds information gleefully, Bill Moseley as a reformed sex offender who’s tagged as a suspect, Timothy Hutton her wheelchair bound scholar and consultant buddy, as well as Cary Elwes and Melissa Leo. None of these actors do much but show up for a minute or two to make their presence known, and recede into the frays of supporting plot, until it’s time for one of them to resurface as the killer in the third act, the end of a whodunit guessing game we’ve seen countless times over. It wouldn’t be such a tiresome thing if they left out the spooky-dooky stuff, but there you have it. The film’s otherwise fascinating, earnest docudrama style is somewhat ruined by the occasional presence of moaning, white eyed spectres of murdered children that leer out at Eliza like minimum wage kids doing weekend shifts in the haunted house at the local county fair. Shame. 

-Nate Hill

BEAUTIFUL GIRLS – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

b1

There is something about turning 30 that makes one re-evaluate their life. It is that time when you are forced to grow up, find direction, settle down, and become an adult. Beautiful Girls (1996) concerns a group of men faced with this dilemma. They have been living in the past and recent events have forced them to confront it head on. This is also the late director, Ted Demme’s best film in an all-too brief career. As he said in an interview at the time of the film’s release, “I don’t think there are too many movies about turning 30, or just about to turn 30. Those issues are whether to get married or not, whether to have kids or not, am I happy in my job, do I need to find another job, am I unsettled with myself. You’re not a teen anymore, and you don’t want to admit you’re an adult either.”

Willie (Timothy Hutton) returns to his small, Northeastern hometown for his ten-year high school reunion, hook up with buddies, and get his life in order. His mom has recently died (leaving his younger brother and father in a deep funk) and all of his friends are having relationship problems. Willie strikes up a friendship with a young girl named Marty (Natalie Portman) who has moved in next door. She is a character out of J.D. Salinger short story – wise beyond her years. Marty sets the tone for the rest of the women in the story. They are all intelligent and end up suffering with men who don’t appreciate what they have right in front of them.

Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg was living in Boston, waiting to see if Disney would use his script for Con Air (1997). “It was the worst winter ever in this small hometown. Snow plows were coming by, and I was just tired of writing these movies with people getting shot and killed. So I said, ‘There is more action going on in my hometown with my friends dealing with the fact that they can’t deal with turning 30 or with commitment’ – all that became Beautiful Girls.” The resulting screenplay turned out to be quite autobiographical, with Willie being Rosenberg’s surrogate.

The friendship between Willie and Marty pushes the boundaries of what is comfortable in a comfort movie but it never goes beyond it. Rosenberg’s screenplay is smart enough to be self-aware of this and even addresses it in a scene between Willie and his friend Mo (Noah Emmerich). Fortunately, the film narrowly avoids letting things get too uncomfortable and therefore taking us out of the captivating spell established by the movie. It also avoids clichés like the beautiful Andrea (Uma Thurman) having sex with one of the guys. Instead, she rebuffs them all because she is loyal to her boyfriend who, makes her martinis listens to Van Morrison and reads the newspaper with her on Sunday mornings – simple pleasures. She is not a perfect ideal, just on another level than these guys.

Rosenberg’s script is also able to juggle the various subplots without resorting to cliché resolutions. Tommy (Matt Dillon) is cheating on his girlfriend Sharon (Mira Sorvino) with his high school sweetheart (Lauren Holly). When he gets beat up by her husband (Sam Robards) and his buddies you anticipate Willie, Paul (Michael Rapaport) and Mo to mobilize and kick some ass but at the last second they stop because the man’s child will see her father get beaten up. This stops Mo who also has kids.

In addition to the clever plotting, Rosenberg’s script also features a lot of funny, memorable dialogue. Tommy chastises Paul for getting his on again-off again girlfriend, Jan (Martha Plimpton) a brown-colored diamond when he tells him, “Buddy, you been eating retard sandwiches.” There is also great throwaway dialogue like Stinky (Pruitt Taylor Vince) with his proprietor lingo, “We got apps!” or the often-used word “crease” to convey frustration at something, like when Tommy asks, “What’s got him creased?”

b2All of the guys in Beautiful Girls are essentially the same person. Willie is just finding his luck, Paul just lost his luck as the film begins, Tommy loses it over the course of the movie, and Mo has already found and achieved it with his family. Demme does not waste an opportunity to subtly illustrate his point. In one scene, he frames all three guys together: Paul (lost luck) is driving with Willie (finding luck) and Mo (achieved luck) along for the ride. The women counterpoint their men in this cycle: Tracy (Annabeth Gish) for Willie, Jan for Paul, Sharon for Tommy, and Sarah (Anne Bobby) for Mo.

The women in the film are smarter than the guys and make them (and us) feel like they are lucky that their behavior is even tolerated much less loved despite all of their failings. This is epitomized in Gina (Rosie O’Donnell)’s famous monologue where she chastises Tommy and Willie for obsessing over the women in Penthouse magazine. She tells them, “If you had an ounce of self-esteem, of self-worth, of self-confidence, you would realize that as trite as it may sound, beauty is truly skin-deep.” Gina speaks for the women in the film when she reminds the men to forget the airbrushed ideal of women that we see in magazines and movies. They do not exist or are unattainable to any normal guy.

To counter her argument, later on in the movie, Paul delivers a monologue defending men’s idealization for the impossibly perfect image of women. “She can make you feel high full of the single greatest commodity known to man – promise. Promise of a better day. Promise of a greater hope. Promise of a new tomorrow.” It is a rare, articulate moment for Paul, suggesting that he may be more than some lunkhead who drives a snowplow. He may actually be a romantic. It is nice to see a film that is obviously told from a man’s point of view trying to show both sides of the argument.

The women in the film are not treated like excess baggage. They all have a soul and a brain which is rare for a film written and directed by men. There is a tendency to make them perfect or marginalized with their problems defining them. This is not the case with Beautiful Girls. This is reversed and it is the problems that define the men.

Ted Demme assembled a fantastic cast of independent character actors for his movie: Michael Rapaport, Max Perlich, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Mira Sorvino to name only a few. They all work so well together and their friendships are believable because of the preparation the director made them do. He had the entire cast come to Minneapolis and live together for two to three weeks so that they could bond. One only has to watch a scene like Andrea’s first appearance in Stinky’s bar as Willie and his friends try desperately to impress her that the two week bonding session paid off. There is an ease and casual nature between everyone that is authentic.

The setting is a character unto itself. Demme has set his film in a charming east coast hamlet that is filled with little diners and bars that look so inviting that you want to go there, you want to be there. It all looks so comforting, so inviting and this is so hard to achieve properly in any film. He commented in an interview that he “wanted to make it look like it’s Anytown USA, primarily East Coast. And I also wanted it to feel like a real working class town.” To this end, Demme drew inspiration from Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978). “The first third of the film is really an amazing buddy movie with those five actors. You could tell they were best friends, but they all had stuff amongst them that was personal to each one of them.” Demme wanted to make Beautiful Girls more than just a buddy movie. When he read Rosenberg’s screenplay he told him, “‘You know, we really need to take this to another level.’ If I was ever going to make a buddy movie, which I never thought I would, I wanted to make sure it had some real depth to it.”

b3The film does not wrap everything up nice and neatly. Paul and Jan’s subplot is not resolved in the sense that we don’t know if they settle their differences and get back together. Tommy and Sharon will probably get back together but it is not spelled out. Instead, as the closing credits appear we are left to imagine what happens to the characters. It is Paul’s parting comments to Willie as he is about to go back to New York City, “Come and see us any time, Will. We’ll be right here where you left us. Nothing changes in the Ridge but the seasons.” This is also a message to the viewer as well. Come back and see Beautiful Girls again. The film’s world and its characters are comforting and making you want to revisit them again and again.

CITY OF INDUSTRY – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

CITY OF INDUSTRY is that seedy noir where men treat their own gunshot wounds with whisky and cigarettes in a rundown bathroom of a motel, talk in short and blunt alpha male code, and live by a code of honor and revenge. The film has a fantastic cast led by Harvey Keitel giving his archetypal tough guy performance. Supporting Keitel is Timothy Hutton, Famke Janssen, Lucy Liu, Michael Jai White, Stephen Dorff, and Elliot Gould.

City of Industry Keitel.jpg

The film’s premise is the Richard Stark esque caper/revenge story of four men robbing a jewelry store, and then one of them (Dorff) kills off two (including Keitel’s younger brother played by Hutton) and then Harvey Keitel spends the rest of the film tracking him down and killing anyone in his way.

City of Industry Hutton.jpg

The film thrives on its minimalist approach. It knows exactly what it is, and it does not try to be anything more. Keitel commands the screen with his scowls and his pistol whipping anyone who stands between him and Dorff. Along the way, Keitel befriends the widow (the always great Janssen) of one of his slain crew members, and of course finds solace and redemption in helping her while tracking Dorff.

City of Industry Dorff.jpg

The film is what it is. For those who enjoy the heavy B movie revenge genre, this film was made for you. Keitel’s stoic performance is solid as ever, Dorff and his blonde highlights is sleazy as ever, and Elliot Gould makes a brief yet groovy turn as a sweaty and smooth crime boss. CITY OF INDUSTRY is one of those gems that stand out among the best of the 1990’s straight to VHS crime films.

Q & A – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

MSDQANA EC007
Q & A, Nick Nolte (front, left), Timothy Hutton (front right), 1990. ©TriStar Pictures

Among the many genres prolific filmmaker Sidney Lumet has dabbled in, the one in which he excels and demonstrates the most affinity for is the crime thriller. In particular, he is fascinated with police corruption and how the law and order system works (or, in some cases, doesn’t work) in New York City. In the 1970s, he told the story of an undercover cop who deals with corruption among his fellow officers with Serpico (1973). In the 1980s, he depicted the plight of a police detective that informs on his cohorts after being busted himself in the magnum opus Prince of the City (1981). In the 1990s, Lumet tackled police corruption yet again but this time via the angle of racism with Q & A (1990). Based on the novel of the same name by New York judge Edwin Torres, Lumet’s adaptation received mixed reviews from critics and was largely ignored by audiences of the day. It has become something of a forgotten, underappreciated film in Lumet’s filmography and one that deserves to be rediscovered.

During the opening credits we see the rain-slicked streets of New York City through the back seat of a cop car. This sequence sets a nice, gritty tone and takes us on a mini-tour of the city where most of the film’s action takes place. However, Ruben Blades’ jarring song that plays on the soundtrack almost ruins it. I’m not quite sure what Lumet was thinking but it simply does not work here.

Lieutenant Mike Brennan (Nick Nolte) is a dirty cop as evident from his introduction where he ambushes an unarmed Latino drug dealer, blows the guy’s brains out and then bullies two nearby witnesses into saying that the man had a gun in his hand. Assistant District Attorney Al Reilly (Timothy Hutton) is assigned to the case. His boss tells him that the incident is a cut and dry one. He is told that Brennan is a good cop – a little rough in his methods but all of his cases have been tried successfully with no appeals. Reilly is instructed to collect the facts with the help of a stenographer and present them to a grand jury. His boss instructs him that “the Q & A defines what really happened. If it’s not the Q & A, it didn’t happen.”

Reilly is eager to please and is impressed with Brennan’s imposing presence and reputation. The young A.D.A. questions Roberto “Bobby Tex” Texador (Armand Assante), a drug dealer and racketeer, who, along with his wife Nancy (Jenny Lumet), witnessed the aftermath of the murder. He refutes the theory that the gun was found on the murder victim. Reilly begins to suspect that something might not be right with the case. He is also faced with a personal conflict as he used to be involved with Nancy and still has feelings for her. Reilly soon realizes that’s he’s taken on more than he can possibly handle. Sidney Lumet pits Brennan, Bobby Tex and Reilly against one another, each with their own agenda and the film gradually heads towards an inevitable confrontation between the three men.

Nick Nolte is a lot of fun to watch as a larger than life cop. He sports slicked back hair and a thick mustache that threatens to overtake his mouth. There’s a memorable scene early on where his character recounts a story to some other cops about how a mobster gave him a hard time when he tried to fingerprint him that is hilarious and disgusting. The scene has an authenticity of a veteran that delights in telling old war stories to inflate his own ego. Nolte’s Brennan is a chatty guy that loves to tell stories of past glories as he tries to buddy-up with Reilly until the A.D.A. lets him know that he’ll go after the veteran cop if he finds out he’s dirty. Nolte’s whole demeanor changes in a heartbeat and it is quite exciting to see him go from jovial to threatening in the span of a few seconds. Brennan is as corrupt as they get and enjoys the influence he exerts and the power he wields. He uses fear and intimidation to get what he wants. Nolte put on 40 pounds for the role because he felt that the character required it: “just the sheer mass of brutality. I felt that would be the right kind of thing. He had to be on the edge of his own dissipation.”

Armand Assante is a force of nature as Bobby Tex, portraying the crook with an aggressive swagger and an intensity that is impressively conveyed in his eyes. During Reilly’s initial questioning, Bobby oozes casual confidence and Assante does a great job of conveying it. He also imparts a keen intelligence. Bobby isn’t just some two-bit street punk. He doesn’t even blow his cool when Luis Guzman’s cop gets all in his face. Bobby matches his intensity and it is great to see two skilled character actors go at it. Assante ups his intensity when he warns Reilly to stay away from his wife. He gives the A.D.A. a seriously threatening look that would have most people shaking in their shoes. It’s Bobby’s first appearance in the film and Assante makes quite an impression.

Up against two lead actors playing colorful characters, Timothy Hutton wisely underplays Al Reilly. His character may be young and new to the job but he knows the law as demonstrated when questioning a mobster by the name of Pesch (Dominic Chianese) and his lawyer (Fyvush Finkel) in rather confident fashion. At first, it appears that the slick mob lawyer is going intimidate Reilly but the young man expertly turns the tables with his intelligence. Hutton is good as the straight arrow A.D.A. that decides to take on a highly respected cop and in the process uncovers an intricate web of corruption. The actor avoids stereotyping by showing layers to his character through the revelation of his feelings for Nancy which affects his approach to the case. Reilly starts off as an idealistic person but over the course of the film, as he’s exposed to corruption, he gains experience and becomes savvier when it comes to how things work. Early on in Q & A, there is a revealing conversation he has with Leo Bloomenfeld (Lee Richardson), a veteran attorney that has clearly been working in the system for far too many years. He’s jaded and tells the eager Reilly how things really are, giving him a taste of the corruption he will witness first hand later on. To prepare for the role, Hutton went on squad-car runs with police officers in Manhattan in order to get an idea of the challenges they face on the streets. He said of the experience, “in many cases the hands of the officer on the street are tied.”

Lumet shows how close these cops are by the short-hand between them and the familiarity they have with each other. In the scene where Reilly questions Brennan about the homicide in a room full of cops, the director really captures the camaraderie among these men. The dialogue sounds authentic and is delivered by the actors in a way that is so natural you believe that they are these characters. Consummate character actor Luis Guzman has a memorable role as a homicide detective that first suspects the Brennan case is rotten. He has a memorable moment where he jokingly defends Brennan’s casual racism: “He ain’t no racist. He hates everybody. He’s an equal opportunity hater.” Even though this is said in jest, in actuality it’s not far off the mark.

However, in his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote, “great little scenes overshadow bigger, more important ones. Characters come and go at speed. Watching the movie is an entertaining ride, but when it’s over it’s difficult to remember where, exactly, one has been.” USA Today gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, “Overkill ultimately wears Q & A down, despite two bravura performances and some Hutton understatement that’s adequate to the task. So, too, does unrelenting sordidness, a deadly love angle and a score (Ruben Blades) almost as awful as Cy Coleman’s sabotage of Lumet’s Family Business.”

One of the major themes Q & A wrestles with is racism. There is the casual kind between black, white and Latino cops and there’s the more damaging kind that resulted in the end of Reilly and Nancy’s relationship years ago. Racism informs a lot of the characters’ decisions and often motivates their actions. The film addresses racism in an honest way that you rarely see outside of a Spike Lee film. As he did with Prince of the City and later with Night Falls on Manhattan (1997), Lumet sheds light on how cops and crooks can be intricately linked and just how deep corruption runs in a sprawling metropolis like New York City. These films show how law and order works in fascinating detail and that feels authentic, much like the television show Law & Order does year in and year out.