The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


That Guy Dick Miller

Dick Miller may be the quintessential character actor. His IMDb page lists more than 170 film and television credits. He's appeared in blockbusters and obscurities, and has done just about every genre imaginable. Miller has worked with directors as diverse as Jonathan Demme, James Cameron, and Steven Spielberg. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who's had a career like his. The documentary That Guy Dick Miller is a tribute to this one-of-a-kind actor.

Director Elijah Drenner takes us on a tour through Miller's career. The actor got his start working on Roger Corman's low-budget films. (Not of This Earth and It Conquered the World were two early credits.) Miller proved so versatile that Corman used him repeatedly, and he became something of a good luck charm for the noted filmmaker. Later, he segued into major studio fare, as Corman's disciples, including Joe Dante and Jonathan Kaplan, continued the tradition of casting him when they broke through to the mainstream. Dante, in fact, has cast Miller in every movie he's made, including both Gremlins pictures and the cult favorite The 'Burbs.

The harsh realities of show business have come into play, as well. Miller aspired to be a screenwriter, and even received a few credits, but that goal was largely waylaid by acting. One of his scripts, Which Way to the Front?, was rewritten - and, according to Miller, butchered - by Jerry Lewis. Perhaps the biggest defeat of Miller's career was being cut out of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. Nonetheless, he took these pitfalls in stride and soldiered on.

That Guy Dick Miller does a very good job showing how its subject found his own unique place in the movie business. Anyone interested in the ins-and-outs of a career in the cinema will find plenty to savor. Many of Miller's collaborators and friends appear on camera to sing his praises and relate stories about working with him. Among them: Dante and Corman, but also Corey Feldman, Robert Forster, John Sayles, and film critic Leonard Maltin. His brothers provide some background on family life, which included a father who didn't necessarily approve of acting as a career choice. Miller, of course, is here too, and scenes of him comically bickering with his loving wife Lainie are very funny. He comes across as a good guy who had talent, worked hard, and appreciated his luck.

The only odd thing about the documentary is that it has a lot more of other people talking about Dick Miller than it has Dick Miller talking about Dick Miller. Maybe he's just not the self-reflective type, or maybe Drenner didn't push him hard enough, but his comments about his career tend to be short and jokey. Miller seems like such an amiable, good-natured guy that we can't help but wish we could hear more of him dissecting his own cinematic history. Nevertheless, the other interviewees provide a ton of insight, in addition to some fascinating stories of movie-making. That Guy Dick Miller is a valentine to its subject. If you've ever noticed Dick Miller in a movie and thought, Hey, I recognize that actor!, you'll find this look at his amazing body of work both engaging and entertaining.

( out of four)

That Guy Dick Miller is unrated, but contains some adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.

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