Bonnie Bedelia

The Quiet Room (1993, Steven Soderbergh)

The Quiet Room really, really, really, relies on its twist. The ending is really predictable too; like, director Soderbergh and writer Howard A. Rodman do way too well on the foreshadowing. Because Room is a slightly exaggerated noir–part of the “Fallen Angels” TV anthology–nothing really needs to be foreshadowed. There’s a twist Soderbergh and Rodman set up in the first third, the end just delivers on it in an extreme way. Two twists for the price (or time) of one.

By the last third, when it’s just the countdown to the reveal, both lead performances softly crater. Soderbergh makes sure the lovely Emmanuel Lubezki and luscious Armin Ganz production design slow the descent. But the descent is inevitable because it’s just a noir TV anthology episode. With a source short story. And a somewhat salacious twist, at least as far as noir goes; if Quiet Room were going for homage, it might work better. Instead, it tries to be something different.

Joe Mantegna and Bonnie Bedelia are dirty cops. They’re having a love affair, which no one knows about; besides them, the only significant character is Mantegna’s teenage daughter, Vinessa Shaw (in the most important performance and the consistently worst). Mantegna is a single dad, out all hours because he and Bedelia have a shakedown racket going. Bedelia collars prostitutes and then beats information out of them about their johns so Mantegna can go and shake down the johns. Peter Gallagher has what seems like a great cameo as one of them, but then J.E. Freeman is one of the other ones and he’s freaking amazing in a much smaller role. Freeman walks away with the whole thing. Especially given how it finishes up.

Mantegna is mostly all right. He really whiffs when he needs to make it work. Bedelia’s better. Neither of them get good roles though. It’s all about Freeman though, performance-wise.

Soderbergh’s direction is fine. He’s got a handful of nice shots and does well with the actors. Sometimes well with the actors. There’s only so much to do with the script, especially as it starts barreling towards the inevitable conclusion. Soderbergh doesn’t do anything to slow its descent, much less stop it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Soderbergh; teleplay by Howard A. Rodman, based on a short story by Frank E. Smith; “Fallen Angels” created by William Horberg; director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Stan Salfas; music by Peter Bernstein; production designer, Armin Ganz; produced by Horberg, Lindsay Doran and Steve Golin; released by Showtime Networks.

Starring Joe Mantegna (Carl Streeter), Bonnie Bedelia (Sally Creighton), Vinessa Shaw (Jeannie Streeter), Patrick Breen (Doc), J.E. Freeman (Johnny Cabe), and Peter Gallagher (Dr. Yorgrau).


Die Hard 2 (1990, Renny Harlin)

Director Renny Harlin often takes an interesting approach to conversations in Die Hard 2. He’ll have a character look off screen and interact with what they see, without ever establishing what they’re seeing. Oftentimes it happens with someone interacting with star Bruce Willis–Harlin only gives Willis this treatment once; it both focuses attention on Willis, but also opens Die Hard 2 up a little. Harlin acknowledges the greater world the audience isn’t seeing. It’s really a neat technical move; Stuart Baird’s sublime editing makes it even better.

Willis’s appealing performance and some nice dialogue exchanges manage to divert attention from Die Hard 2‘s bigger problems. First, William Sadler’s not much of a villain. Sadler’s not bad, but the role’s poorly written. Ditto for returning cast members Bonnie Bedelia and William Atherton. Screenwriters Steven E. de Souza and Doug Richardson treat the picture as sixty percent sequel, forty percent reunion. Reginald VelJohnson shows up for a scene just to remind the audience how much they enjoyed the first film and to encourage them to give this one a pass on its lesser moments.

There’s a surprisingly lack of action for long stretches. For the first half, all the action’s fantastic. In the second, it’s passable, nothing more. Oliver Wood’s photography’s a lot more interesting in confined places. The outdoor, nighttime action sequences of the last third are a bore.

While it’s uneven (the first half’s so much better), Die Hard 2‘s still a fun time and technical marvel.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Renny Harlin; screenplay by Steven E. de Souza and Doug Richardson, based on a novel by Walter Wager; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Stuart Baird; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, John Vallone; produced by Lawrence Gordon, Joel Silver and Charles Gordon; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Bruce Willis (Lt. John McClane), Bonnie Bedelia (Holly McClane), William Atherton (Richard Thornburg), William Sadler (Col. Stuart), Dennis Franz (Capt. Carmine Lorenzo), Sheila McCarthy (Samantha ‘Sam’ Coleman), Art Evans (Leslie Barnes), Fred Dalton Thompson (Trudeau), John Amos (Maj. Grant), Franco Nero (Gen. Ramon Esperanza), Tom Bower (Marvin) and Reginald VelJohnson (Sgt. Al Powell).


Presumed Innocent (1990, Alan J. Pakula)

I could, but will not, get into the idea Presumed Innocent is what studios were making as popular summer entertainment in the nineties. It’s simply to depressing to start that discussion.

Instead, I’ll start with the film’s strengths. Even though the second half is very strong–how did Raul Julia not get nominated for this one (or Bonnie Bedelia for that matter)–Presumed Innocent is strongest at the beginning, before the trial. The reason is numbers–the second half has, principally, star Harrison Ford, Julia, Bedelia, Paul Winfield and a little John Spencer and a glimpse of Bradley Whitford.

The first half has Ford, Bedelia, Spencer with a lot more screen time and then Brian Dennehy in a great performance. As the star, Ford is somehow perfect. He’s this leading man surrounded by character actors, but his character is right for Ford. Seeing him opposite the other actors, the approach is unquestionable.

Of course, it’s Alan J. Pakula directing with Frank Pierson helping him with the script so there’s always going to be a certain baseline of quality. Pakula resists any glamorized composition; the film looks as grimy and downtrodden–with a couple notable exceptions, Ford and Bedelia’s home in the suburbs and Dennehy’s office after he’s betrayed Ford.

The problem is mostly too much story in not enough running time. The beginning is either too long or too short, same as the middle, same as the end.

And also Greta Scacchi. She’s not in it much, but she’s lousy.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alan J. Pakula; screenplay by Frank Pierson and Pakula, based on the novel by Scott Turow; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by Evan A. Lottman; music by John Williams; production designer, George Jenkins; produced by Sydney Pollack and Mark Rosenberg; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Harrison Ford (Rusty Sabich), Brian Dennehy (Raymond Horgan), Raul Julia (Sandy Stern), Bonnie Bedelia (Barbara Sabich), Paul Winfield (Judge Larren Lyttle), Greta Scacchi (Carolyn Polhemus), John Spencer (Lipranzer), Joe Grifasi (Tommy Molto), Tom Mardirosian (Nico Della Guardia), Sab Shimono (‘Painless’ Kumagai) and Bradley Whitford (Jamie Kemp).


Salem’s Lot (1979, Tobe Hooper)

During Salem’s Lot’s finale, Hooper gets this amazing physical performance out of Bonnie Bedelia as she is exploring the vampire’s lair. At that moment, I realized Hooper was intentionally making Lot palatable for a television audience—he could have made the entire three hours terrifying, but he was handicapped by the format.

The miniseries issues are rampant. Screenwriter Paul Monash can write, but he’s drowning in nonsense from the novel. The first half has two characters—played by George Dzundza and Julie Cobb—whose story takes up nearly a fourth of the film… They don’t even appear in the second half. Their story in the first half does nothing to further the story. It’s just crap Stephen King had in the novel and Monash was stuck including it.

Lot had a shorter, theatrical European cut—it’s incomprehensible, which is a surprise—the full version is so fatty, a good editor should’ve been able to lop off an hour without any negative effect.

Except for poor James Mason, who’s fine in the first half and goofy in the second, the acting is nearly all good. Bedelia’s amazing, lead David Soul is surprisingly good. Dzundza is a little broad, but Ed Flanders, Kenneth McMillan and Lew Ayres make up for it.

Hooper saves his enthusiasm for the second half—including a couple lovely Hitchcock homages. It’s too bad he didn’t sustain it throughout.

Without the weak ending and the awful Harry Sukman score, it would have been better. As is, it’s decent.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tobe Hooper; teleplay by Paul Monash, based on the novel by Stephen King; director of photography, Jules Brenner; edited by Tom Pryor and Carroll Sax; music by Harry Sukman; production designer, Mort Rabinowitz; produced by Richard Kobritz; released by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring David Soul (Ben Mears), James Mason (Richard K. Straker), Lance Kerwin (Mark Petrie), Bonnie Bedelia (Susan Norton), Lew Ayres (Jason Burke), Julie Cobb (Bonnie Sawyer), Elisha Cook Jr. (Gordon ‘Weasel’ Phillips), George Dzundza (Cully Sawyer), Ed Flanders (Dr. Bill Norton), Clarissa Kaye-Mason (Majorie Glick), Geoffrey Lewis (Mike Ryerson), Barney McFadden (Ned Tibbets), Kenneth McMillan (Constable Parkins Gillespie), Fred Willard (Larry Crockett) and Marie Windsor (Eva Miller).


The Big Fix (1978, Jeremy Kagan)

The Big Fix is a fundamentally different detective movie. While there are some elements updating it to time period, a lot of it is still a detective investigating in LA, meeting all sorts of people all around town and so on. It’s still Raymond Chandler to some degree–with Dreyfuss playing his (marginally) goofy, but caring standard and the setting changing from film noir to plastique (the exploration of America post-1960s) but the film makes an even severer change. Richard Dreyfuss’s detective is not defined by being a detective, the genre norm. Instead, Dreyfuss is a guy who happens to be a detective and finds himself in this whole mess, but the character’s truest moments are when he’s with his kids, when he’s trying not to fight with his ex-wife, when he’s getting excited about a date. These are not detective movie norms.

The big mystery is sufficiently convoluted enough for the genre. It’s a little simpler then Chandler–and the anti-establishment air of Chandler is present here, sort of finally finding the perfect fit of tone and setting–but it’s a good mystery. The ending, even if some of the details are perceivable, is a surprise. But the ending–the mystery’s ending, the supposed a-plot’s ending–is lackluster. It’s quiet and subdued, something Dreyfuss rarely is during the film. Then the close comes and the close is where The Big Fix becomes something else entirely. There were the moments throughout where it broke from the genre, but it always got back on track with a car chase or a gun cleaning. The close erupts from genre constraints and then, once it’s genre-less, takes it a little higher. Kagan–who I’ve never heard of before this film–closes off the mystery and the film on an appropriately humorous plane… but then he does something else, something I never would have seen coming. It’s kind of forward, but only in its simplicity. For a detective movie, with the comedy, with the socially relevant updating, it’s stunning. Kagan just lets the viewer see the characters for a bit, totally free of story or character establishing. It’s beautiful.

The acting in the film is generally excellent. Dreyfuss is bombastic when he needs to be and touching when he needs to be, it’s one of his most sure-footed performances and he’s great. He plays it with a fortified vulnerability. Susan Anspach and John Lithgow are both okay, effective at times, not so much at others. Bonnie Bedelia is great as Dreyfuss’s ex-wife. The second tier supporting cast, Ron Rifkin as Bedelia’s boyfriend and F. Murray Abraham, are fantastic. Abraham’s performance is unexpected; it’s so long before he nosedived, he still has enthusiasm and, given his character’s one of the plot’s enigmas, he surpasses expectation. Rita Karin is also particularly wonderful as Dreyfuss’s senior center revolutionary.

The Big Fix is important for a couple reasons. First (and easier), it’s about the aftereffects of the 1960s, an important period consigned to–and not even anymore–big network miniseries. It occurred to me, watching the film, even with all the film footage from the period, all the books, it’s going to be forgotten… even though the protestors’ billboards say a lot of the same things as, well, the banners on liberal blogs today and the politicians are still talking about identity cards. The second and more important thing is, obviously, that genre-bust at the end. The Big Fix isn’t out on DVD anywhere. It never even came out widescreen on laserdisc. It’s forgotten and it shouldn’t be.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jeremy Kagan; screenplay by Roger L. Simon, based on his novel; director of photography, Frank Stanley; edited by Patrick Kennedy; music by Bill Conti; production designer, Robert F. Boyle; produced by Carl Borack and Richard Dreyfuss; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Richard Dreyfuss (Moses Wine), Susan Anspach (Lila Shay), Bonnie Bedelia (Suzanne), John Lithgow (Sam Sebastian), Ofelia Medina (Alora), Nicolas Coster (Spitzer), F. Murray Abraham (Eppis), Fritz Weaver (Oscar Procari Sr.), Jorge Cervera Jr. (Jorge), Michael Hershewe (Jacob), Rita Karin (Aunt Sonya) and Ron Rifkin (Randy).


Die Hard (1988, John McTiernan)

Talking about Die Hard is complicated for lots of reasons. Besides Aliens, I think it’s the best popular action film ever made and, given when it came out, it’s very familiar. It shouldn’t be full of surprises and, in many ways, is not (though Theo and Karl having a bet on Takagi is something new to me. So instead, when watching it, it’s an appreciatory experience, rather than a–it’s still critical, but since I’m not looking to assign a value, since I know the value, I’m trying to understand how it works.

Die Hard features brutal, terrible villains. Not at all likable, but there’s almost a Helsinki syndrome with them. Theo’s funny, Karl’s crazy, Hans is great to watch. The bad guys prove more entertaining than the “good guys,” with the standard exceptions of Willis and Reginald VelJohnson. That level is always in the film, regardless of what number viewing a person is having. The “Die Hard on a dot dot dot” action movie, which has almost become every action movie (except, oddly the last two Die Hard sequels), ignores the most interesting parts of the film. Villains who are fun to watch not because of their villainy, but because the characters are bad, but entertaining. There’s also the question of the short present action. The movie starts with Willis getting there and ends with him leaving. The situation (Willis visiting estranged wife) provides for a perfect exploration of the characters, without needless exposition.

But there’s also the developing relationships through the film. The dumb cop eventually becoming… friendly (only after the dumber FBI agents show up). McTiernan directs a confined story better than anyone I can think of–because he inserts the viewer in the building with the characters… But the viewer isn’t tied down to Willis, the viewer gets to move….

There’s an element of privilege to the film. Lots of the moments Willis gets–the quiet ones–are privileged moments (which makes the lack of respect for his acting at this point in his career a tad surprising), but they don’t compare to some of the other ones. Like when Bedelia sees her practically demolished husband at the end. Just her expression brings Die Hard to a level of reality, even with the jokes, even with explosions, very few films–none featuring off-duty cops with automatic weapons–ever reach. The film encompasses the viewer in a singular way, something none of the imitators (or sequels) could duplicate.

Obviously, Rickman is outstanding and Willis is great–the most interesting thing about the two is the lack of desperate struggle. By giving Willis Alexander Godunov as a nemesis, his relationship with Rickman becomes far more interesting. Godunov is, of course, a joy to watch.

I think the only acting surprise was De’voreaux White, who I never think about doing a great job, but does.

McTiernan’s never duplicated the quality, influence or depth of Die Hard–the understanding of people relating to one another–but then, screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza have never even come close… because another sterling aspect of the film is the conversations between the characters.

I didn’t do a particularly good job with this post but I don’t have to. Because Die Hard is, to quote a friend (on a different subject), undeniable. And because, once the experience is over… it’s hard to talk about.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John McTiernan; screenplay by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza, based on a novel by Roderick Thorp; director of photography, Jan de Bont; edited by John F. Link and Frank J. Urioste; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Jackson De Govia; produced by Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Bruce Willis (John McClane), Alan Rickman (Hans Gruber), Reginald VelJohnson (Sgt. Al Powell), Alexander Godunov (Karl), Bonnie Bedelia (Holly Gennero McClane), Paul Gleason (Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson), William Atherton (Richard Thornburg), De’voreaux White (Argyle), Hart Bochner (Harry Ellis), Dennis Hayden (Eddie), Clarence Gilyard Jr. (Theo), James Shigeta (Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi), Robert Davi (FBI Special Agent Johnson) and Grand L. Bush (FBI Agent Johnson).


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