I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Always

tn_alwaysspielbergALWAYS is very cutesy and sentimental, it’s got some pretty weak comedic bits and it’s definitely the weakest full-length Spielberg I’ve watched in this marathon so far. But it’s still pretty good, and with some things nobody could’ve done as well as Spielberg.

This one’s about the pilots who dump the red stuff on forest fires, and the Tom Cruise of red-stuff-dumpers is former shark expert and Close Encounterer Richard Dreyfus. The Anthony Edwards is John Goodman and the Kelly McGillis is Holly Hunter. Actually, Dreyfus looks kinda like Paul Newman in this one, strutting around in aviators, leather jacket, baseball cap and grey mustache. The point is he thinks he’s awesome, and everybody else agrees. His girl seems to have when are we gonna settle down? type issues, but he makes her happy by buying her a nice dress, something you don’t see around the base much because she’s the only woman there.

There’s a constant wackiness in the movie that’s pretty grating. Goodman does things like drink a Twinkie with a straw or not notice that he shook hands with a guy covered in oil and then find six different ways to unknowingly rub it all over his face. Painfully contrived. The first section reminds me of other movies that glorify the blue collar workers of a specialized type of firefighting – specifically ON DEADLY GROUND and FIRESTORM – except everybody has a wiseass grin on their face. It tries to pull you into their world by sticking you in the middle of all their camaraderie and in-jokes.

But it also gets into some serious stuff. There’s something really true to life about the way the night rolls lazily from good times to serious talk and possible breakup. Hunter can’t live with the fear anymore of her guy dying, putting his life on the line to save trees. And he can’t believe she wants him to quit the one thing he loves, the one thing that makes him awesome, that earned him the right to wear the shades/mustache/hat combo.

I dare somebody to have this airbrushed on the side of their van.
I dare somebody to have this airbrushed on the side of their van.

I was glad I managed to watch this forgetting what it was gonna actually be about, so I’ll put a SPOILER WARNING here. I was surprised when Hunter rushed to the runway to tell him she loved him before he took off, and then he tried to tell her he loved her for the first time ever but she didn’t hear him over the engines. I was like oh shit, he’s gonna die? Is this a PSYCHO move, it’s gonna be about somebody else now? Well, not really. After he dies heroically he gets to come back to earth to inspire a young pilot (Brad Johnson). He’s invisible like Patrick Swayze but he speaks to him and plants ideas in his subconscious. He also gets to see his old friends.

Call me an old softie, but some of this emotional shit worked on me a little. It’s a nice idea from both directions – nice to think you might get to stick around and tie up loose threads after you bite it, and nice to think that your deceased loved ones and dead homiez are literally there with you giving you support and inspiration and you just don’t know it.

And then, this being a Spielberg movie, it manages to combine that with a thrilling action climax. Good flying and fire effects and a tense scene where all kinds of emotional business gets to be worked out: the girl getting to be the one to risk herself, the fire fighters getting to heroically save lives instead of just trees, him getting to tell her he loves her and also being able to leave her behind so she can live her own life while he goes off to less earthly ghostly duties like trying to kill Pac-Man or whatever.

Kinda odd that this is such a minor Spielberg – obviously not one of the greats, but not notorious like 1941 or HOOK or anything. Just one of the okay forgotten ones. The reason it’s odd is because it was kind of a dream project for Spielberg. It’s a remake of a 1943 movie called A GUY NAMED JOE which apparently he and Dreyfuss quoted all the time on the set of JAWS, and he put it on the TV in POLTERGEIST.

Spielberg didn’t write it though. Wikipedia says the script was started by Diane Thomas, a waitress who had pitched ROMANCING THE STONE to Michael Douglas one day when he was a customer. She had been promoted to writing the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK sequel when she died in a car accident in 1985. ALWAYS was finished by Jerry Belson, whose other credits include EVIL ROY SLADE and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT II.

Spielberg bungles some of the comedy I think, but for the most part he directs the shit out of it and makes it way better than some Joe Johnston or somebody would’ve. He gives the characters gravity with the way he shoots them, he heightens the drama with the scary firefighting sequences.

I like Goodman in this too. He does that thing he did on Roseanne where he’s a goofball most of the time and then all the sudden you start noticing the serious undertones. He’s not only a loyal bud but turns out to be a really caring and supportive friend to Hunter after his buddy’s dead. It’s real sweet. In fact now that I think about it, Holly Hunter and Laurie Metcalf have always kind of reminded me of each other. Probly because of this:

hunter-metcalf
And that’s almost the same relationship Goodman’s Dan had with Metcalf’s Jackie on Roseanne. Except without ever having had a thing for her. He’s such a good friend to her that he encourages her to see another, younger dude. He doesn’t try keep a manly loyalty to the dead guy or anything. He’s realistic about it. Life goes on. Always.

That’s kind of a dumb name. Fits the movie though. Pretty corny. I liked it though.

(I recommend playing those at the same time.)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 17th, 2012 at 8:30 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews, Romance. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

48 Responses to “Always”

  1. Vern – I’m surprised you didn’t mention Audrey Hepburn in her last movie appearance. (Of course so does everybody else who reviewed this movie, so I don’t blame you for skipping that cliche.)

    I didn’t care for ALWAYS. Not offensively bad, just rather unremarkable and I understand the Beard wasn’t hardcore filmatically all over it like he would with a passion project or what not. Intentionally hands off, or at least gave off that vibe compared to most of his pictures. But it’s one thing to go lightweight, its another to go featherweight.

    But I wonder in retrospect if there is always (har har!) a danger in remaking movies you “love.”

    I mean first off, if you love a picture so much, why remake it? The movie is already there. Unless you come up with a new, differnet interesting unique twist to differentiate yourself from the original, you’re in danger of just jerking off* as a fanboy using somebody else’s money.

    Of course I haven’t seen A GUY NAMED JOE so I don’t know what changed or the different takes are, except I only know JOE was set in WW2 and the dead lover was a fighter ace.

    *=Example from the last decade that locals will probably totally disagree with me on: Peter Jackson’s KING KONG. The original was splendid popcorn entertainment, racist chariactures and questionable acting aside. More than anything else, its compacted and fully satisfying at 105 minutes. You can understand why it left an indeliable imprint on pop culture, and would inspire an even better knock-off movie monster over in Japan.

    So of course PJ remade it at 3 hours, and boy was it bloated and boring. Come to think of it, the 70s KONG remake was also overlong and also overcomplicated and overpacking what was a pretty simple (others say pretty thin) narrative in the first place. Worse both really played too much into the whole beast/beauty shit, with as much subtlety as sledgehammer to the balls. OK rant over, you guys now roast me for not liking it, ok? Try Kingsford, I like that brand.

  2. I watched this pretty recently myself. I had mixed feelings on it, but I didn’t hate it. I was sort of aware of its reputation as one of Spielberg’s biggest turkeys – I think it’s considered one of his sappier pictures. I liked Hunter & Goodman, but didn’t think it was one of Dreyfuss’ more convincing roles.

    I thought Spielberg really directed the hell out of it, camera swooping this way and that, great effects in the firefighting scenes, and it was actually pretty restrained compared to a lot of cornball 80s Americana. One thing I noticed and appreciated is that Richard Dreyfuss was never rendered with any stupid glowy effects to let you know he was a ghost, and Spielberg’s staging in the scenes where he interacts with her as a ghost (especially the one where he dances with her) get across everything with just pure storytelling via camera movement, no special effects. Most directors couldn’t pull that off.

    So I think Spielberg brought a lot to the picture, but his ability to fill it to the brim with what I guess you could call “movie magic” also feels to me like a double edged sword. Like you said, most of the comedy feels like misstep after misstep, and the early scenes introducing the setting, the party scene where Hunter emerges wearing the angelic white dress, every firefighter in the bar lining up in a comic display to dance with her – first of all there’s no way to make these scenes good, in my opinion, but Spielberg’s approach is manic and alienating. It makes me wonder if he trusted the simple human story underpinning it all, that he felt he needed all this madcap comedy and the intensity of the firefighting scenes. I think it pushed what was already unconvincing material over the edge.

  3. it’s been a long time since I’ve seen this one, but I liked it, it’s a lesser Spielberg to be sure, but it’s still good

    plus, it’s a beautiful looking movie of course, nothing beats late 80’s/early 90’s cinematography

    by the way, I’m actually about to go watch HOOK right now, I guess we’ll be watching it around the same time huh Vern?

  4. and yeah, that John Alvin (RIP) poster art would indeed look sweet airbrushed on the side of a van

  5. I’m nearing the end of this review and mentally start a conversation with Vern, going, “I’m surprised you didn’t mention Audrey Hepburn in her last movie appearence.” Then I scroll down and find out that either RRA was reading my mind or I’m reading his.

    I always (sorry) thought Dreyfus was miscast in this. (Although after learning the history behind the movie, I see why he was cast.) He just feels like he’s trying too hard to be Average Joe and instead comes off as a prick, even in those last scenes with Hunter in the plane. Yes, I understand his character is a bit of an asshole and full of himself, but I suspect it’s supposed to have come off as charming and slightly endearing instead of annoying. I do love it when Hunter makes fun of his laugh. Surely, that wasn’t in the script originally. I bet Spielberg himself threw that in there. Same with the oil scene. That one comes off as how something similar happened on set and it got thrown in there as a gag. I don’t mind it because Goodman pulls it off.

    Still, I like-not-love this movie and get that odd craving to see it once in a while, especially to see Hepburn. I would want her as my afterlife buddy, too. Either her or Jack Lemmon in drag.

  6. I also think a van airbrushed with this movie poster on the side would make a great prize for a Vern book launching. That, or one airbrushed with Jack Lemmon in drag.

  7. so I just got through watching HOOK and once again, as with The Lost World, I learn an oft hated Spielberg movie is actually good

    it’s a cute and dare I say heartwarming? little movie, looking forward to Vern’s review

    man, do I wish 1941 was on blu ray

  8. Airbrushing this on a van? Lame. I dare anybody to tattoo this all over your back!

  9. I’m biased towards this since I absolutely love Richard Dreyfus in anything he’s done from 1986 to whenever What About Bob was made. I love Moon Over Parador, Stakeout, Down and out in Beverly Hills, etc., so I have to say I like this one. I also like Krippendorf’s Tribe though, so take that for what it’s worth.

  10. “Nothing beats late 80s / early 90s cinematography”

    YES! Thank you, Griff! I enthusiastically agree. And Always is a prime example of the high standards of that era, albeit presented in the context of a pretty weak movie. It’s VERY minor Spielberg, in the bottom five–although it has enough good parts, as Vern pointed out, to save it from being flat-out bad.

  11. JD – I don’t know what it is exactly about that era, it could partly be a nostalgia thing I guess, but a ton of movies from that general era (from about the mid 80’s to the mid 90’s) really please my eye

    I think it’s because they had absolutely perfected shooting on film by that point, before they (foolishly) made the switch to digital

  12. Hook for example looked pretty great on blu ray

  13. ThomasCrown442 – I liked MOON OVER PARADOR too.

    Assfeast420 – makes me wonder if Spielberg had made RAIN MAN in that period as he wanted instead of INDY 3. Would the results have been the same for him as with ALWAYS or what?

  14. RRA: You’re probably right about the dangers of re-maing a beloved movie. But one exception to the rule would have to be Herzog’s version of NOSFERATU. I don’t necessary like it more than the original, but man is that ever an effective film.

    Herzog’s NOSFERATU also offers a simple lesson for aspiring horror directors: use real rats. Lots and lots of real rats (just treat them better than Herzog treated his rats ie. not dipping them in boiling water to dye them).

    A single bat climbing a curtain is way freakier than anything you can dream up in a computer.

  15. I miss the common use of film myself. This digital shit seems too sterile and cheap looking most of the time. I tried to give that 3rd STAR WARS prequel another shot the other day and just couldn’t get into it at all specifically cause of all the digital shots. It just feels so hollow and artificial to the point of annoyance.

    I really do miss the grain and weight added to cinematography by the use of film. It’s one of the only reasons I give respect to the likes of Chris Nolan despite thinking he’s one of the most overrated filmmakers in recent memory. The man’s film’s look GREAT and feel authentic and are visually captivating cause of the richness shooting on film provides compared to digital.

    In this day and age of being able to craft an entire production on a Mac that type of dedication to artistry is much appreciated. It’s obviously what helps him stand apart from his contemporaries. He takes his time to really focus on shooting on film and goes through the obstacles and withstands the headaches that may bring in today’s age. As opposed to taking short cuts and just sitting in front of a monitor all day long sipping coffee and stroking his 4th chin Lucas style.

  16. Jareth – I could argue that Herzog’s “remake” was significantly different from the original in that it used SOUND, with dialogue and sound Fx that inevitably come with it.

    But otherwise, yeah you’re right. Touche.

  17. I remember seeing this as a kid and having no idea who Audrey Hepburn was. I mean, I’d heard the name, but I didn’t know what she looked like or what she was famous for. But when she showed up, I knew she was SOMEBODY because of how she was shot. This wasn’t just some actress playing a role, this was an APPEARANCE. That’s how much of a master of the basic language of film Spielberg is. He can turn a stranger into a star just by looking at her.

  18. RRA: In the particular case of Herzog’s NOSFERATU, it’s kind of remarkable how little the sound and color distract from Herzog’s apparent determination to make a really old feeling film; other period pieces of the time, like Polanski’s TESS, seem much more modern.

    The dialogue in particular seems like it was written in the 1920s, and many of the musical choices – like that creepy Russian choir – really evoke an older yet eerily inderterminate era. I also like how Kinski mimics Max Schreck’s performance so well that it’s almost like Schreck himself crept into Herzog’s production when no one was paying attention.

    But like I said, I agree with your general point. Off the top of my head I can’t think of another film that was successfully remade the way NOSFERATU was, at least not a remake that adhered so closely to the original.

    Majestyk: Hepburn was a delicate flower.

  19. Jareth: I have since become acquainted with her through one of my favorite movies, WAIT UNTIL DARK. I remain largely impervious to her notorious charm (she’s so exactly my type that I think I feel spoonfed when she’s onscreen) but she’s good in the movie. She certainly won me over to her side by the time her husband came home and pulled that patriarchal “That’s my girl” shit on her. Motherfucker, she just fought a psychopath to the death without the benefit of sight or any substantial body mass whatsoever. What did you do today, you condescending sonofabitch?

  20. Jareth – All great points that I agree with.

    Mr. M – I take it her badass pre-fame work as a Dutch Resistance member during WW2 didn’t help the spoonfeeding either, right? I mean a ballerina in Nazi-run Europe passing notes and shit and escaping capture and death by her immortal cuteness?

    That’s not real life, that’s a TOP SECRET! prequel.

  21. I just watched her in one movie, RRA. I didn’t read her biography. That all sounds pretty awesome, though. I’m sure they’re already pitching Lindsay Lohan for the movie.

  22. Charade, How to Steal a Million and Wait Until Dark are the movies to watch with Audrey Hepburn. I recommend Robin and Marion too, but not as highly as the first three. I know My Fair Lady and Breakfast at Tiffany’s are supposed to be the highlights of her career, but they have not aged well.

  23. I thought the idea of airbrushing this to a van was stupid, but now that I saw Mouth’s photoshopification of this, I would totally make my van look like this. If I had a van.

  24. So would I dude; so would I. Richard Dreyfuss in the clouds is such a greatly random image that it will surely bag you convo with lots of freaky chicks (as in the sexy kind not the Ellen kind) when you hit the road.

  25. Ellen Page? I KNEW her performance in HARD CANDY was too good to be mere acting.

  26. They’d get Natalie Portman cause you know they always remind us how she’s the “new Audrey Hepburn” like there could ever really be another. It’s almost as bad as “George Clooney is the new Cary Grant”. Nigga please.

  27. When I look at that poster I see more Bruce in DEATH BECOMES HER than I do Richard Dreyfuss.

  28. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    January 18th, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Holy fucking shit, this was Spielberg? I remember watching the first half-hour or so on TV, being convinced it was a terrible DTV movie, and turning it off again. There endeth my memories of “Always”.

    Guess I should’ve remembered the Dreyfuss connection. He always makes lousy movies with Spielberg at the helm. I mean, wasn’t there some kind of obscure shark movie that they made together… can’t remember its name now… “Teeth” or suchlike? You’ve probably never heard of it. Anyway, it pretty much tanked.

    *

    On other subjects…

    “Charade, How to Steal a Million and Wait Until Dark are the movies to watch with Audrey Hepburn.”

    Holy fucking shit Pegsman, do you have a laser beam shot directly into my frontal cortex or something? I didn’t think anybody else had even SEEN “Wait until Dark”, regardless of how much I keep plugging it on this site! And as for Charade… classic, classic movie, just delightful in the old-fashioned sense of the word. Cary Grant does his usual schtick and does it great, but Hepburn and Walter Matthau make this movie what it is.

    *

    Anyway, that’s not the BIG news. You want the BIG news. And here it is. I HAVE ANOTHER EXCLUSIVE.

    YEAH! Take THAT, Vern! You may be able to get the first reviews in of all those little flicks that nobody’s ever heard about like “Mission: Impossible 4” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, and no doubt you’ll have a “Haywire” review up the day it comes out, and ditto “Expendables 2”. Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever, nobody cares, nothing to see here. Like anybody’s even heard of any of these films, right?

    No, I have the first honest-to-God review on “Vern Tells it like it is” of Swedish-language police procedural “The Silence”. Undoubtedly the film that all the kids will be queuing around the block for at the multiplexes. “Twilight”? “Hunger Games”? Don’t make me laugh – obscure Swedish arthouse police flicks are where the real money is!

    So here’s the link to my review: http://outlawvern.com/2011/12/08/seed-of-fast-potpourri-the-face-of-death-a-new-beginning-the-dream-child/#comment-2151088

  29. Griff: I came to that exact same conclusion: that motion picture film, after roughly a hundred years of refinement and development, achieved technical and aesthetic perfection between about 1988 and 1992. Lenses, cameras, film stock, camera equipment, and traditional old-fashioned optical color timing-(as opposed to the digital intermediate finishes that are the standard now and, I think, really just flatten the life out of a lot of otherwise good cinematography)-they seemed to all have a perfect balance with each other. The film itself still had grain, but wasn’t as excessively, distractingly grainy as a lot of seventies and early eighties films; the colors were bright and vivid but not splashy and gaudy.

    The greatest cinematographers of that time–Vitorio Storarro (Tucker: A Man And His Dream, The Last Emperor), Rob Richardson (Born On The Fourth Of July, The Doors, JFK), Allen Daviau (Empire Of The Sun, Avalon), Caleb Deschenal (The Natural), Hiro Narita (The Rocketeer, Honey I Shrunk The Kids), Dean Cundey (Dances With Wolves), Ernest Dickerson (Do The Right Thing) truly did take it as far as it could go. It couldn’t last–by 1995, movies already looked different–but, as I said, there was that one glorious moment, when everything-resources, technology, and artistic vision-synched up perfectly to give us some of the most glorious cinematography ever.

  30. I guess y’all’s cinematography timeline theory gives me one more reason to call THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992) the greatest movie ever made.

    I’ll buy it.

  31. “…like trying to kill Pac-Man”.

    Vern, I love you, man.

  32. caruso_stalker217

    January 18th, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    Actually, JD, it was Dean Semler who shot DANCES WITH WOLVES. But I only know that because I happened to be looking at the back of the Blu-Ray at Wal-Mart earlier today.

  33. I think my favorite film in terms of late 80s/early 90s cinematography is A FEW GOOD MEN. It was Reiner’s first widescreen movie and according to his DVD commentary, Robert Richardson, the DP convinced him that the widescreen format would open up the scenes in the courtroom and make it less claustrophobic. They also worked to give it a classic Hollywood look and feel.

    I love a lot of Audrey Hepburn movies, FUNNY FACE, CHARADE, SABRINA, WAIT UNTIL DARK

  34. WAIT UNTIL DARK & HOW TO STEAL A MILLION are among the first “old” movies I saw when I transitioned from being just a child to being a precocious movie-loving child. Sorry to burst your bubble, Paul, but these gems are not very hidden.

  35. Charade is one of the best movies Hitchcock never made.

  36. Vern should do a mini Hepbrurn fest for Valentine’s Day.

  37. Am I the only one who thinks one of Dreyfuss’s best movies that has been unfairly forgotten was Let It Ride?

  38. Dean Semler, Dean Cundey–darn! Too many Dean DPs.

  39. I grew up beneath the flight path of these kind of firebombers. Every summer a flight would take off to douse the Rockies, so when this popped on the tube I watched it for the planes alone. They almost felt like their own characters, and frankly some had more personality than the stiff Dreyfus is supposed to school from beyond the grave. I thought he was all looks and no charisma, so of course he showed up in Flight of the Intruder too (as you can tell, I was going through my plane phase). All in all I think this one’s pretty sappy, but I’m with Vern, the charm cuts through the more saccharine bits.

  40. What happened to Brad Johnson? I remember him as kinda cool. A bit boring, but he looked a bit like Tom Berenger and could handle himself in action scenes.

  41. CHARADE gets on my nerves. I like it, but it kind of looks like shit (supposedly because it’s public domain now and no one cares to restore it for DVD).

  42. M. Casey – Criterion put CHARADE out on blu-ray and dvd. I haven’t seen the blu-ray but I don’t remember anything being wrong with the transfer on the dvd.

  43. Huh. Didn’t know that. I’ll have to go find that and give it a watch. Cute little movie. Thanks Vern.

  44. I’ve bought a lot of these old dvds, like Charade, How to Steal a Million, What’s New, Pussycat?, North by Northwest and Arabesque to name but a few, and they’ve all been great tranfers. But then again, I buy a lot of shitty transfers too, just because I’m a sucker for the 60’s and 70’s.

  45. I own the Charade Criterion DVD and can confirm the transfer is good. (And the extras excellent, as per usual for Criterion.)

    I hate that they tried to remake that movie. They didn’t take it in new directions, they just tried as usual to make a *new* modern version with the flavor of the month (actors I like but who have no charisma in that remake) without undersatanding what made the original so appealing.

  46. Best Dreyfuss: Mad Dog Time
    (aka: trigger happy)

  47. Cassidy: I loved LET IT RIDE, more out of nostalgia than anything else since it was one of those movies that was endlessly on HBO or USA in my childhood. It’s a silly 80’s comedy that has the benefit of a fun story and a good supporting cast.

    Favorite Dreyfuss is still CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, though.

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