Brian Dennehy

Best Seller (1987, John Flynn)

Best Seller either isn’t sleazy enough or it isn’t glitzy enough.

Larry Cohen’s script about a cop who writes true crime books teaming up with a hitman desperate to be the subject of such a book needs something distinctive about it. Leads Brian Dennehy and James Woods are okay, but Cohen’s script doesn’t give them anything to do in the roles. Woods can amp it up to impress, but Dennehy looks like he’s just watching the events play out most of the time.

The problem–besides the script being really slight–is director Flynn. He can’t shoot good action scenes, he can’t shoot good dialogue scenes… he wastes every opportunity in the picture. Seller is bland, down to Jay Ferguson’s music and Fred Murphy’s photography. Some of the second unit shots are the most impressive in the film.

But there’s also the lack of supporting characters. It’s practically a road movie, with Woods and Dennehy traveling the country while Dennehy does research, only they don’t meet anyone interesting. Kathleen Lloyd pops in as Woods’s sister and doesn’t even have a line. Mary Carver plays his mom and only has three….

It’s not any better on Dennehy’s side. Victoria Tennant plays his agent, but she’s got nothing to do except occasionally be terrified or dumb.

Paul Shenar makes a good villain–but Shenar always makes a good villain–and his Mr. Big barely gets any time.

Woods and Dennehy are sometimes great together, but Flynn’s completely inept at making Cohen schlock.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John Flynn; written by Larry Cohen; director of photography, Fred Murphy; edited by David Rosenbloom; music by Jay Ferguson; production designer, Gene Rudolf; produced by Carter DeHaven; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring James Woods (Cleve), Brian Dennehy (Dennis Meechum), Victoria Tennant (Roberta Gillian), Allison Balson (Holly Meechum), Paul Shenar (David Madlock), George Coe (Graham), Anne Pitoniak (Mrs. Foster), Mary Carver (Cleve’s mother), Sully Boyar (Monks), Kathleen Lloyd (Annie), Charles Tyner (Cleve’s Father), Jeffrey Josephson (Pearlman) and Seymour Cassel (Carter).


Foul Play (1978, Colin Higgins)

Foul Play ends with a celebration of itself. Over the end credits, clips of some of the film’s more memorable moments and characters play. It’s incredibly egotistical–I mean, Foul Play is director Higgins’s directorial debut, it’s Chevy Chase’s first leading man role… it’s an unproven commodity.

Except, of course, Higgins has every right to be so full of himself and proud of the film. It’s not just the best made comedy of the seventies, but it’s probably the best made one since the seventies too. And Higgins? Higgins’s directorial debut is one of the best directorial debuts. He’s in an elite club of five or six directors. The plot complications and the way he layers information and causal relationships throughout the film are only matched by the complex composition and direction. His approach to establishing shots is both distinct and inventive, brisk but deliberate.

Higgins gets great performances out of the entire cast–Goldie Hawn and Chase are wonderful together (and on their own, though it’s really Hawn’s film)–but there are some standouts. Dudley Moore is incredible, as is Burgess Meredith. While they’re fine actors, their performances here are extraordinary. I wonder if Higgins had them in mind when he wrote the script.

Billy Barty’s great too (in a similarly suited role).

In tiny roles (less than three minutes of screen time) M. James Arnett, Pat Ast and Frances Bay all stand out.

Excellent score from Charles Fox, excellent photography from David M. Walsh.

Foul Play is magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Colin Higgins; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by Pembroke J. Herring; music by Charles Fox; production designer, Alfred Sweeney; produced by Edward K. Milkis and Thomas L. Miller; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Goldie Hawn (Gloria Mundy), Chevy Chase (Tony Carlson), Burgess Meredith (Mr. Hennessey), Rachel Roberts (Gerda Casswell), Eugene Roche (Archbishop Thorncrest), Dudley Moore (Stanley Tibbets), Marilyn Sokol (Stella), Brian Dennehy (Fergie), Marc Lawrence (Stiltskin), Billy Barty (J.J. MacKuen), Don Calfa (Scarface), Bruce Solomon (Scott), Pat Ast (Mrs. Venus), Frances Bay (Mrs. Russel), William Frankfather (Whitey Jackson), John Hancock (Coleman) and Shirley Python (Esme).


Meet Monica Velour (2010, Keith Bearden)

In the listless younger man, experienced older woman genre, Meet Monica Velour is a painfully obvious modernization (the older woman is a former porn star, the younger man is an… avid fan). I use the ellipses because Meet Monica Velour’s protagonist is the finest example of the stalkers of the eighties growing up to be the leading men of today (which There’s Something About Mary proudly started).

The lead of Monica Velour is Dustin Ingram who does not look seventeen, even if he was nineteen shooting the film. He’s also not very good. When the film’s about him being this awkward youth (he lives with grandfather Brian Dennehy), the film’s really weak. Bearden fails to properly establish Dennehy as the grandfather, instead making one wonder why the kid’s calling his dad “Pop Pop.” It’s also unclear the kid’s a kid. The high school graduation scene seems out of place.

But Bearden’s casting of Jee Young Han as the object of Ingram’s affection is interesting, as she’s not a skinny beauty queen.

Velour gets consequential once Kim Cattrall arrives (as the titular character). She gives a stunning performance; I never thought Cattrall had the ability she shows here. Every line delivery is revelatory.

Great supporting (glorified cameo) from Keith David, who should have been in it more. The same goes for Dennehy.

Bearden doesn’t seem to have realized the lead role needed to be someone besides a boring kid (especially one played by Ingram).

But Cattrall’s performance makes Velour significant.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Keith Bearden; director of photography, Masanobu Takayanagi; edited by Naomi Geraghty; music by Andrew Hollander; production designer, Lou A. Trabbie III; produced by Gary Gilbert and Jordan Horowitz; released by Anchor Bay Films.

Starring Kim Cattrall (Linda), Dustin Ingram (Tobe), Sam McMurray (Ronnie), Tony Cox (Club Owner), Jee Young Han (Amanda), Daniel Yelsky (Kenny), Keith David (Claude) and Brian Dennehy (Pop Pop).


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).


F/X2 (1991, Richard Franklin)

F/X2 is very affable. It’s so affable, it encourages one to overlook its major shortcomings. First off, it’s a PG sequel to an R-rated original, which cuts down on the grit (though rated PG-13, the rating’s needlessly inflated with minor nudity). Second, it’s got Toronto standing in for New York. There’s some New York location shooting… but it’s not enough. The production simply doesn’t have any personality.

Of course, neither of those problems is really damning, if the script were good. Bill Condon’s script isn’t terrible–though it seems like it must not have been much work, more of an outline really, since the entire film depends solely on Bryan Brown and Brian Dennehy. They’re playing PG versions of themselves from the first film, which is problematic, but they’re so likable, who cares?

Most of the rest of the film is the special effects. Except they’re not particularly believable or thoughtful–it’s like an episode of “MacGyver.”

I’ve only seen the film once before–at most twice and long ago–but I remembered two of the three twists. In fact, I think this film has conditioned me to be wary of Philip Bosco, never believing he isn’t secretly a villain.

The supporting cast is mostly wasted–Rachel Ticotin and Joanna Gleason barely get any screen time as the new love interests. And then Kevin J. O’Connor shows up to annoy.

Franklin’s direction is pretty good, somewhat hampered by Toronto.

But Brown and Dennehy are so affable, who cares?

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Franklin; screenplay by Bill Condon, based on characters created by Robert T. Megginson and Gregory Fleeman; director of photography, Victor J. Kemper; edited by Andrew London; music by Lalo Schifrin; production designer, John Jay Moore; produced by Dodi Fayed and Jack Wiener; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Bryan Brown (Rollie Tyler), Brian Dennehy (Leo McCarthy), Rachel Ticotin (Kim Brandon), Joanna Gleason (Liz Kennedy), Philip Bosco (Lt. Ray Silak), Kevin J. O’Connor (Matt Neely), Tom Mason (Mike Brandon), Dominic Zamprogna (Chris Brandon), Jossie DeGuzman (Marisa Velez) and John Walsh (Rado).


First Blood (1982, Ted Kotcheff)

Maybe if it weren’t for the Stephen J. Cannell television techniques (cars flying through the air or exploding on impact), the asinine, comedic banter between the deputies, some poor writing and Richard Crenna, First Blood might have been okay. Ted Kotcheff isn’t a good director though, so maybe not. Kotcheff shoots exteriors well (the stuff a second unit could have also done), but his composition for actors is simplistic and his director of the actors is terrible. Crenna’s role is just idiotically written, but both Stallone and Brian Dennehy careen from good to bad and not all their writing is bad; Kotcheff was just a terrible fit.

First Blood‘s actually kind of boring, mostly because it wastes all of its potential. The opening with Stallone visiting a friend off a beautiful lake really works, because it gets across the idea Rambo smiles when he sees children play. That characterization of Rambo doesn’t hold up through the entire movie and it’s a real problem. Anyway, after the opening, there’s the whole small town cops hassle Rambo stuff. Those scenes have some potential. Not a lot, because the transition from the sensitive Rambo who comforts an angry woman isn’t there. But David Caruso’s good as the sympathetic young deputy and Dennehy’s sheriff is still just a Western bad guy (the big mistake is later, when the script tries to give him depth).

But then Stallone hops on a motorcycle and starts doing wheelies and all the reality goes whoosh. Of course, after just showing him as a heartless animal, he’s warning people to get out of the way of the motorcycle on the sidewalk. Then there’s the long sequence in the forest, with awful cinematography. Then Richard Crenna shows up and is terrible and then a bunch of other stuff, then the ending Gremlins seems to have ripped off a little (it’s okay, since First Blood stole a lot from Raiders of the Lost Ark).

All the while, Jerry Goldsmith’s absurd score booms. Goldsmith appears to have never seen First Blood and is instead scoring an action movie with motorcycles. Oh, wait….

Stallone really does try during some of the scenes, but it doesn’t work. His big monologue is nowhere near as effective as when he tells some guy to get out of a speeding truck. Some of his wordless grunting scenes are bad, but most of his stuff is just boring–the movie probably spends fifteen minutes with him walking silently through a mine.

Nothing, of course, compares to that terrible end credit song, which is horrific. Sadly, the moment just before the song starts, Goldsmith’s score is for one second appropriate and First Blood actually seems all right. Then the song starts.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Kotcheff; screenplay by Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim and Sylvester Stallone, based on the novel by David Morrell; director of photography, Andrew Laszlo; edited by Joan E. Chapman; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Wolf Kroeger; produced by Buzz Feitshans; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (John J. Rambo), Richard Crenna (Col. Samuel Trautman), Brian Dennehy (Hope Sheriff Will Teasle), Bill McKinney (State Police Capt. Dave Kern), Jack Starrett (Deputy Sgt. Arthur Galt), Michael Talbott (Deputy Balford), Chris Mulkey (Deputy Ward), John McLiam (Orval the Dog Man), Alf Humphreys (Deputy Lester), David Caruso (Deputy Mitch), David L. Crowley (Deputy Shingleton) and Don MacKay (Preston).


Perfect Witness (1989, Robert Mandel)

Perfect Witness is a standard TV movie, even if it was on HBO (I’m not sure what got it on HBO even… language, maybe?), even if it does have a great cast. During the opening credits, it’s names like Brian Dennehy, Stockard Channing, Delroy Lindo, Joe Grifasi, and Aidan Quinn. Robert Mandel directed it. It should have been better, instead of just the standard TV movie (lengthy–four to five month–present action and more complicated plot, though I don’t know why legal TV movies have always had complicated plots… it’s not like TiVo has been around forever).

Mandel does a so-so job. He disguises Toronto quite well for New York, but the TV movie is not something he’s suited for. He’s only got one really nice moment in the whole thing, which is disappointing, especially since Brad Fiedel does the score and Fiedel can always deliver good moments. The score’s nice, better than the movie deserves, but there just isn’t the material for Fiedel to strengthen.

Quinn’s fantastic. The movie works because of his performance, nothing else. Dennehy is okay, good in parts, but his character is practically a villain, which Dennehy isn’t playing. Channing is okay too, but unimpressive in the emotional female role. Lindo and Grifasi both have small, nice parts. The only important lousy performance is Laura Harrington as Quinn’s wife. She’s real bad.

I suppose there have to be other TV movies like Perfect Witness out there, completely competent time wasters with better-than-they-deserve casts, but I was really expecting something from Mandel and Dennehy, who’d worked together just a few years before on F/X. And not having a Grifasi and Dennehy reunion (they played Mutt and Jeff cops together in F/X) is just tragic.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Mandel; written by Terry Curtis Fox and Ron Hutchinson; director of photography, Lajos Koltai; edited by Wendy Greene Bricmont; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, Richard Wilcox; produced by Elaine Sperber; released by Home Box Office.

Starring Brian Dennehy (James Falcon), Aidan Quinn (Sam Paxton), Stockard Channing (Liz Sapperstein), Laura Harrington (Jeanie Paxton), Delroy Lindo (Berger), Joe Grifasi (Breeze), Ken Pogue (Costello), Markus Flanagan (Woods), David Margulies (Rudnick), Nial Lancaster (Danny Paxton), James Greene (Paddy O’Rourke), Colm Meaney (Meagher), Tobin Bell (Dillon), Tony Sirico (Marco), Sam Malkin (Stefano), Kevin Rushton (Rikky), David Cumming (Kevin O’Rourke) and David Proval (Lucca).


F/X (1986, Robert Mandel)

About ten minutes in to F/X, I got wondering how the film was going to deal with being a special effects-filled film about a guy doing special effects for films. I suppose they didn’t have to deal with that relationship, but it kept seeming more and more like they were going to need to address it. Then, at the end, rather simply, they did. It’s a quick “thank you” at the end of the film to the audience. Movies tend not to do the ending “thank you” anymore (Ocean’s Twelve coming the closest in recent memory) because it’s an acknowledgment of the film’s unreality… it probably has a lot to do with films being more centered towards the eventual home video market as opposed to the theatrical experience. An ending “thank you” for watching is definitely a theatrical consideration (I mean, doesn’t Predator even thank its audience?).

Anyway, the ending brings F/X up a little bit, because the film’s a narrative mess (it also has the most obvious stuntmen I can remember seeing in a long time). It has a solid opening, great first twenty minutes, maybe even twenty-five, then the narrative splits between Bryan Brown and Brian Dennehy. Brown goes from being the protagonist to the subject for half his scenes and the others are action scenes–and good action scenes–so he’s sort of lost. The Dennehy arc is great stuff (though incredibly unrealistic), with Joe Grifasi as his sidekick.

The film’s really well-paced, given all those narrative difficulties, and it’s a constant pleasure to watch. The experience stems from three things, audio and visual. First, Robert Mandel is a good director. He knows how to frame a shot, he knows how to have it lighted and he knows how to have scenes put together (Terry Rawlings’s editing has some outstanding moments–there’s also some scenes where it appears he cut too early, like the dialogue was interrupted for running time, but then I realized it was a stylistic choice and a fine one). F/X looks great from that department, but also because it’s an on location New York movie. Lots of great stuff to show off why New York is the best city to shoot a movie in. Third, and probably most important tying together points one and two: Bill Conti’s score. From the opening credits, Conti establishes his importance to the film and he keeps it up throughout. Conti’s filmography is spotty in terms of film quality, but he does amazing work here.

While Brown is good as the lead, his character–after the story’s moving–rarely has any time to reflect on what’s happened. It’s a little off-putting, but F/X actually has some wonderful subtle moments to take care of those deficiencies. Dennehy’s great. Brian Dennehy could sell real estate on Jupiter and make it believable. Supporting wise… Grifasi’s okay, Cliff De Young’s real good–particularly in the first twenty minutes, which appear to have had tighter revisions–Jerry Orbach’s funny, Jossie DeGuzman’s scenes are all good… The real acting champ, besides Dennehy, is Diane Venora. Her role’s relatively small, but she’s fantastic.

However long the laundry list of problems, F/X is still a fine diversion. And an exceptionally effective one, thanks to the fine production values.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Mandel; written by Robert T. Megginson and Gregory Fleeman; director of photography, Miroslav Ondricek; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Bill Conti; produced by Dodi Fayed and Jack Wiener; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Bryan Brown (Rollie Tyler), Brian Dennehy (Leo McCarthy), Diane Venora (Ellen), Cliff De Young (Lipton), Mason Adams (Col. Mason), Jerry Orbach (Nicholas DeFranco), Joe Grifasi (Mickey), Martha Gehman (Andy), Roscoe Orman (Capt. Wallenger), Trey Wilson (Lt. Murdoch), Tom Noonan (Varrick), Paul D’Amato (Gallagher) and Jossie DeGuzman (Marisa Velez).


Ratatouille (2007, Brad Bird)

While Ratatouille features Pixar’s finest three-dimensional CG, it also features their worst two dimensional characters. The problem’s apparent from the start–the main character has one conflict and it turns out to resolve itself quite easily in the end. There are other conflicts in the film, but they’re all external to the main character, Remy–whose name is easy to forget because he doesn’t really interact with anyone for the majority of the second act. Ratatouille bored me for most of the film, only really engaging me once it got incredibly manipulative towards the end.

There’s a lot to keep busy with… like I said, the CG is phenomenal and there are some okay gags, but there’s very little content because there are no real character relationships. Brad Bird does some really nice things with composition–and, wow, can he ever fill a movie with lengthy action sequences to hide the lack of substance–he does a really nice focus thing, so nice, combined with the Pixar CG, I had to remind myself they really did nothing more than apply some blur filters in Photoshop or whatever the Pixar rendering program is called.

Bird’s writing does Ratatouille in… he doesn’t create engaging characters, certainly not compelling character relationships–Remy spends most of his time talking to an imaginary friend. In many ways, I felt like I was watching an old Disney formula movie, competently pulled off–disingenuous as all hell.

It’s sad when Pixar movies–which used to mean something, but obviously peaked with Monsters, Inc.–are fake and fluff. It’s all so slight, none of the voice actors stood out. The lead, Patton Oswalt–thanks to Bird’s ineffective characterizations–leaves no impression. The whole thing relies on rats being cute and doing cute things, like having little ladders.

Hey, it worked for “Tom and Jerry,” no reason it won’t work for Ratatouille.

There’s also an odd–and apparent, as a little girl asked about it in the row behind me–absence of female rats in the film… in fact, there’s only one woman in the whole thing, human or rodent. The little girl was asking where Remy’s mother was (while I was asking where the female rats were)… but in the end, it really doesn’t matter. Bird wouldn’t have done anything good with her.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Brad Bird; written by Bird, with additional material by Emily Cook and Kathy Greenberg, based on a story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco and Bird; director of photography, lighting, Sharon Calahan; director of photography, camera, Robert Anderson; supervising animators, Dylan Brown and Mark Walsh; edited by Darren Holmes; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Harley Jessup; produced by Brad Lewis; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Patton Oswalt (Remy), Ian Holm (Skinner), Lou Romano (Linguini), Brian Dennehy (Django), Peter Sohn (Emile), Brad Garrett (Auguste Gusteau), Janeane Garofalo (Colette) and Peter O’Toole (Anton Ego).


The Stars Fell on Henrietta (1995, James Keach)

I wonder if, in the early 1970s, anyone could tell Robert Duvall was going to end up playing the scruffy-looking, ne’er do-well with the heart of gold over and over again. He doesn’t particularly act in The Stars Fell on Henrietta. He just shows up and does his thing. His scruffy-looking thing. There’s some attempt at giving him a character–he really doesn’t have any depth–but for the most part, that attempt has to do with his never-spoken love for his cat. The cat’s cute, but it’s hardly enough. There’s some nice stuff with Wayne Dehart, who plays his co-worker in the beginning of the second act (the acts are clearly defined in Stars, usually with fade-outs). It’s 1935 Texas, so Dehart being black and Duvall white gives their relationship some inherent interest, but Dehart’s real good, putting a lot out there, so much Duvall doesn’t have to do much, which is good… because, like I said, Duvall doesn’t do much in Stars.

But Dehart leaves and Duvall ends up with Aidan Quinn and his family, where most of the story and most of the problems lie. Quinn starts the film grumbling and for the first act, it seems like the grumble is his interpretation of the character. Once the grumbling goes away, Quinn is good. Frances Fisher plays his wife and she’s good, but her character’s hardly in it after a point, which is too bad because her performance is probably the best and her character had the most potential for drama. The film’s narrated from the present day–in some ways, not that narration, but in lots of others, it reminds of a really depressing Field of Dreams, especially since the film starts out with the narrator telling the audience everything is going to be bad in the end. For the first eighty minutes, it does too. One bad thing after another happens, so much so I was suspicious of every scene.

The Stars Fell on Henrietta is a pretty picture. It’s a Malpaso production, Clint Eastwood producing it (and I kept wondering how it would have been if he’d taken Duvall’s role), and there’s the wonderful Joel Cox editing and the perfect Henry Bumstead production design (startling, in fact). The non-Eastwood regulars are good too–David Benoit’s music is nice and Bruce Surtees does a good job with the cinematography, though he’s obviously not Jack N. Green… Director James Keach uses the prettiness–especially the music–to make up for what the screenplay doesn’t provide: good character relationships, an ending, humanity. Everything is nice and tidy and the film constantly ignores potential for rich drama, or just fast-forwards through it.

It’s an empty experience. The end credits rolled and I appreciated the fine score and couldn’t think of one thing the film showed me.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by James Keach; written by Philip Railsback; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Joel Cox; music by David Benoit; production designer, Henry Bumstead; produced by Clint Eastwood and David Valdes; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Robert Duvall (Mr. Cox), Aidan Quinn (Don Day), Frances Fisher (Cora Day), Brian Dennehy (Big Dave), Lexi Randall (Beatrice Day) and Billy Bob Thornton (Roy).


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