John Heard

C.H.U.D. (1984, Douglas Cheek)

The only name I recognized during C.H.U.D.’s opening titles—after the more obvious names in the cast—was casting director Bonnie Timmermann. Timmermann’s an A tier casting director; C.H.U.D. is a B movie with a lower A movie cast (I mean, John Heard and Daniel Stern are both capable of fine work and they would’ve been at near career highs at the time of this one). But it doesn’t seem to know it’s got a better cast than the material, which isn’t a surprise as the script is bad and the directing is bad. Also bad is the cinematography, by Peter Stein, though it’s not like director Cheek would’ve known what to do with better photography. C.H.U.D. manages to be shot on location in New York City, but look like it was shot in Toronto with some second unit establishing work done in New York. And then the sewer stuff is obviously sets and lots of them, but quantity over quality.

So it’s mostly director Cheek’s fault. Sure, Parnell Hall’s script has terrible dialogue, silly characters, contradictory exposition, and an absence of suspense but it still contains those elements. Better direction could’ve at least fixed the lack of suspense and made the silly characters amusing. But Cheek really doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing at all. He sabotages his actors, usually with these terrible two shots, which doesn’t help de facto lead Christopher Curry (as a police captain whose wife has gone missing in the rash of recent disappearances). Curry’s… not great and seems out of his depth in a lead role, but at least he’s not hamming it up like Daniel Stern or sleepwalking like John Heard.

Heard’s a fashion photographer who wants to do important work, like photographing people experiencing homelessness but not for journalism’s sake, rather… his own self-aggrandizement? It’s confused and an example of the contradictory exposition. Though it seems like Heard’s decisions are mostly for girlfriend (or wife, it’s unclear) Kim Greist, who’s a callous fashion model and wants him to be famous for the serious photography while still doing all her photo shoots too. The film opens with Heard (who’s top-billed). He’s there to establish the people living underground in the old tunnels—so, C.H.U.D.’s extravagant underground tunnels and giant spaces don’t seem to have anything to do with the sewer or the subway. The film doesn’t acknowledge there are working tunnels under the city. It’s very weird. And inevitable. I spent at least ten minutes waiting for the big underground reveal scene as Curry and Stern—more on them in a moment—either find the legion of scientists doing secret work or at least a good shot of the subterranean mutants’ lair. But no. Same sets as before.

Heard doesn’t do much in the second act; he comes back for the third, but second is Stern and Curry. Less Heard (and Greist, who gives an exceptionally flat performance) isn’t a bad thing. Though Stern and Curry aren’t a good thing.

So Stern is a street preacher who runs a soup kitchen. He and Curry have history; Curry busted him for something five years before, which he drops as exposition. Curry’s too busy memorizing old cases to react to his wife being missing and presumed… eaten. Pretty soon Stern is able to convince Curry there’s something going on and so then they try to fight city hall only for city hall (a regretful looking Eddie Jones, who seems to understand the state of the production better than any other cast member) to tell him absurdly corrupt government official George Martin is in charge. Martin becomes the film’s heavy, which is… not why you want to watch a movie about underground mutants attacking the surface world.

The underground mutants don’t actually look bad either. They’re budget constrained but they might be effective if Cheek could direct. Some of it is definitely Stein’s photography. It’s like he’s trying to showcase the rubber in the costume instead of obscure it.

Lots of familiar faces in the supporting cast—including John Goodman at one point—but most of them are bad. Sam McMurray’s a beat cop who doesn’t care about the people dying, especially if they’re living on the street (or under it). He’s bad. Graham Beckel’s in it for a scene or two. He’s not good, but he’s not bad. Cordis Heard (sister of John) is really bad in a small part as one of Curry’s cops, but it’s obviously Cheek’s direction. C.H.U.D. would be instructional if only any of Cheek’s directorial decisions made sense because then future generations would know what not to do except they’re so weird and obviously not working, they seem hard to classify.

Ruth Maleczech and Bill Raymond are a pair of older siblings living underground who Heard knows; they’re both way too good for the movie, like they thought they were guest-starring on a good TV show or something. J.C. Quinn plays a freelance reporter trying to crack the story, which mostly consists of bad expository scenes with John Heard. He’s not good. But seems like he should be. Then isn’t.

Outside how Timmermann conned a set of solid, working actors into appearing in what should be a low budget exploitation film but isn’t, there’s nothing to C.H.U.D.. A C.H.U.D. is a dud pun doesn’t even work because there’s nothing to suggest it ever could work.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Douglas Cheek; screenplay by Parnell Hall, based on a story by Shepard Abbott; director of photography, Peter Stein; edited by Claire Simpson; music by David A. Hughes; production designer, William Bilowit; costume designer, Jennifer Lax; produced by Andrew Bonime; released by New World Pictures.

Starring John Heard (George Cooper), Daniel Stern (A.J. Shepherd), Christopher Curry (Captain Bosch), Kim Greist (Lauren Daniels), George Martin (Wilson), J.C. Quinn (Murphy), Ruth Maleczech (Mrs. Monroe), Bill Raymond (Victor), Graham Beckel (Val), Cordis Heard (Officer Sanderson), Sam McMurray (Officer Crespi), and Eddie Jones (Chief O’Brien).


Heaven Help Us (1985, Michael Dinner)

In its hundred minute run time, Heaven Help Us does a number of things well. It’s beautifully edited, photographed, directed, acted. Charles Purpura’s screenplay offers a number of fantastic scenes, which director Dinner does a great job with. Overall, however, the screenplay is where there’s a significant problem. The film doesn’t have an ending and its lack of an ending just draws attention to the (easily overlooked) previous plotting deficiencies.

The film is so beautifully constructed in the first act, it gets by on that narrative goodwill and the performances all the way until the finale. Andrew McCarthy is the ostensible lead, the new kid at a Catholic high school in 1965 Brooklyn. His parents have died, he’s living with his sympathetic but awkward grandparents and his understandably upset little sister (Jennifer Dundas). He meets all the kids at school, then he meets a girl (Mary Stuart Masterson). They have a wonderfully dreary teen romance. Masterson is phenomenal, McCarthy is good.

Except it’s like Dinner realized McCarthy was too passive, so he gives Kevin Dillon a lot to do as the lovable bully. Dillon has all the Catholic school shenanigans (bullying, talking back to the priests, confession consulting, trying to corrupt a girl). Dinner and photographer Miroslav Ondríce give the school location enough personality the occasional diversions are all right. But, narratively speaking, Heaven Help Us points at Chekov’s gun only to reveal Greedo shoots first–it’s unclear if the film is hurrying to wrap up or if they just didn’t know what else to do with it.

Because part of the film’s charm is its scope. Dinner and Ondríce do a lot with a limited number of locations, a limited number of angles. They recreate 1965 Brooklyn through intelligent framing, with Stephen A. Rotter’s editing implying a lot of the rest. Rotter’s editing is excellent throughout the film, from the very first sequence.

The film isn’t happy. It’s often funny–there are the hijinks after all and McCarthy and John Heard (as the new priest at the school, which seems like a great narrative device but just gets lost) are great at deadpan–but it’s sad. There’s a weight to it all. Heaven Help Us isn’t just about McCarthy and Dillon finding themselves (they don’t even have to do it themselves–the abrupt deus ex machina takes care of their problems), it really is about Catholic high school. It’s about Heard’s relationship with the headmaster (Donald Sutherland in a fun performance) and the other teachers (specifically an outstanding Jay Patterson as a vicious, cruel one). It’s about the boys growing up in this environment. Dinner takes it very seriously.

Except he’s got too much, because he’s supposed to be making this movie about Andrew McCarthy and Mary Stuart Masterson (who actually has the best story in the film). Instead, he wants to make one about pro-hippie priest John Heard bucking the system. But then he goes ahead and makes one about Dillon.

It’s a mess, but a successful one. Until the third act, all of Dinner and Purpura’s tangential moments work out, like Wallace Shawn’s hilarious monologue on lust.

Heaven Help Us is a fine film, but Dinner had all the pieces–Masterson, McCarthy, Heard, Ondrícek, Rotter, composer James Horner–to make a truly excellent one.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Dinner; written by Charles Purpura; director of photography, Miroslav Ondrícek; edited by Stephen A. Rotter; music by James Horner; production designer, Michael Molly; produced by Dan Wigutow and Mark Carliner; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Andrew McCarthy (Michael Dunn), Mary Stuart Masterson (Danni), Kevin Dillon (Rooney), Donald Sutherland (Brother Thadeus), John Heard (Brother Timothy), Jay Patterson (Brother Constance), Malcolm Danare (Caesar), Stephen Geoffreys (Williams), Christopher Durang (Priest), Dana Barron (Janine), Yeardley Smith (Cathleen), Jennifer Dundas (Boo), Kate Reid (Grandma) and Wallace Shawn (Father Abruzzi).


Ring Around the Redhead (1985, Theodore Gershuny)

Television is a visual medium but budgetary constraints sometimes lead to a lack of visualizations. I assume Ring Around the Redhead, an episode of “Tales from the Darkside,” had some serious budgetary constraints. The entire episode has two and a half sets–one is inventor John Heard's basement, the other is the prison where he waits on death row.

The episode has two big problems; both are director Gershuny's fault. First, his direction is pedestrian at best. Sure, he's got a small budget, but he's not inventive either. Second, he adapted the script from a forties short story. Heard's inventor–not to mention Caris Corfman's reporter–make no sense in a modern context.

Heard's earnest and tries his best. Penelope Ann Miller's appealing as the otherworldly creature he literally pulls from his floor–Ring obviously has some major problems needing ingenuity to visualize. And Gershuny doesn't have any to offer.

At least it's short.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Theodore Gershuny; teleplay by Gershuny, based on a story by John D. MacDonald; “Tales from the Darkside” created by George A. Romero; director of photography, Jon Fauer; edited by Jeffrey Wolf; music by Michael Gibbs; produced by William Teitler; released by Tribune Broadcasting.

Starring John Heard (Billy Malone), Penelope Ann Miller (Keena), Caris Corfman (Adele) and Greg Thornton (Jimbo).


Cat People (1982, Paul Schrader)

Cat People is so brilliantly made, often so well-acted, it's surprisingly those elements can't make up for its narrative issues. Screenwriter Alan Ormsby has a big problem–he's got to turn his protagonist from a victim to a villain to a victim. Sadly, he and director Schrader choose to employ the lamest technique possible towards the end of the second act… a revelatory, expository (if nicely stylized) dream sequence. With the Giorgio Moroder score, it seems like a really cool looking music video.

Shame it derails the narrative and People never fully recovers. Some of the final scenes' dialogue is really lame.

But there's so much good, starting with Schrader. He has a few directorial approaches he uses repeatedly throughout the film. First is the way he shoots eyes–his actors appear to stare into the camera (or just to the right of it). It makes the viewer feel like a voyeur. Schrader repeats that theme throughout the film. He's showing these personal moments, which requires excellent acting from his cast. Even Malcolm McDowell, who's playing an extraordinary creep, gets these little moments.

In the lead, Nastassja Kinski is mostly excellent. Once the film loses its rhythm, she's in trouble, but she still remains sympathetic. John Heard's good as her paramour. Annette O'Toole's excellent as the other woman. Ruby Dee and Ed Begley Jr. are great in small parts.

Cat People succeeds because of Schrader's attention to detail. Despite the story problems, a lot of the film is flawless.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Schrader; screenplay by Alan Ormsby, based on a story by DeWitt Bodeen; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Jacqueline Cambas, Jere Huggins and Ned Humphreys; music by Giorgio Moroder; produced by Charles W. Fries; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Nastassja Kinski (Irena Gallier), Malcolm McDowell (Paul Gallier), John Heard (Oliver Yates), Annette O’Toole (Alice Perrin), Ruby Dee (Female), Ed Begley Jr. (Joe Creigh) and Scott Paulin (Bill Searle).


Snake and Mongoose (2013, Wayne Holloway)

I’m trying to think of something nice to say about Snake and Mongoose because pretty soon it’s going to seem like I’m picking on it. Fred Dryer. As in “Hunter” Fred Dryer. He’s in it for a bit. He’s having fun and still has some personality.

Sadly, the main actors have none. Richard Blake is a little bit better than Jesse Williams, but Williams is atrocious so it doesn’t make much difference. The rest of the supporting cast is even worse, though a lot of the fault might be the script. Alan Paradise and director Holloway write in one liners. It’s okay, of course, since the actors don’t act so much as wait to recite their crappy lines.

But the film’s incompetent in some ways it shouldn’t be. Holloway has a very limited budget. The way he shoots cars, one has to wonder if he promised the owners of these classic vehicles they’d be presented well. Shame Holloway didn’t put the attention into how he was shooting scenes.

Budget aside, the problem is director Holloway. He has no imagination for his small budget. He just pretends what he’s doing works and it doesn’t. More than half the film is old footage of the actual events, but there’s no attempt to integrate the scenes stylistically. Experienced cinematographer John Bailey doesn’t help. Sure, it’s digital, but Bailey does an awful job.

Snake and Mongoose’s badly made, badly acted. It’d do better as an historical clip reel than as an inept docudrama.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Wayne Holloway; written by Alan Paradise and Holloway; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Richard Halsey and Nicholas Wayman-Harris; music by Gary Barlough; production designer, John Mott; produced by Robin Broidy and Stephen Nemeth; released by Anchor Bay Films.

Starring Jesse Williams (Don ‘The Snake’ Prudomme), Richard Blake (Tom ‘Mongoose’ McEwen), Ashley Hinshaw (Lynn Prudhomme), Kim Shaw (Judy McEwen), Maxwell Perry Cotton (Jamie), Fred Dryer (Ed Donovan), John Heard (Wally Parks), Julie Mond (Wendy), Leonardo Nam (Roland Leong), Ian Ziering (Keith Black), Tim Blake Nelson (Mike McAllister) and Noah Wyle (Arthur Spear).


O (2001, Tim Blake Nelson)

The actor playing Josh Hartnett’s mother (and Martin Sheen’s wife) doesn’t get a credit in O. She doesn’t have any lines, doesn’t really make any noise, just looks down at the dinner table during a scene. But she’s a perfect example of how Nelson paints subtlety and sadness into the film’s canvas. She’s mentioned once more later, in this very deliberate scene showcasing Sheen’s emotional abuse of Hartnett. O has a lot of teenagers–in a boarding school–acting adult, but this scene with Hartnett and Sheen (Sheen barely has a visual presence and Hartnett has only one line), reveals these “grown-up” teenagers as the children.

While second-billed, Hartnett is the film’s protagonist. The point of Othello, as a character, is how uninteresting he is when compared to Iago. That observation should not discount Mekhi Phifer’s performance as the Othello analog, however. Phifer’s transformation into a jealous lover is all played onscreen in O… Hartnett’s just a psychopath who finally gets to express himself. Othello has to be a tragedy; even when Phifer lashes out, he maintains sympathy. Some of it works because Hartnett’s a great villain, but most is because of Nelson’s careful direction.

Julia Stiles, as Desdemona, doesn’t have the range Hartnett and Phifer do, but she’s quite good. Her death scene’s extraordinary.

Also essential, in a small role, is Rain Phoenix.

Nelson, cinematographer Russell Lee Fine and composer Jeff Danna create an amazing film. Nelson puts the responsibility for its success on Hartnett; Hartnett excels.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Blake Nelson; screenplay by Brad Kaaya, based on a play by William Shakespeare; director of photography, Russell Lee Fine; edited by Kate Sanford; music by Jeff Danna; production designer, Dina Goldman; produced by Daniel Fried, Eric Gitter and Anthony Rhulen; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Hugo Goulding), Mekhi Phifer (Odin James), Julia Stiles (Desi Brable), Andrew Keegan (Michael Cassio), Rain Phoenix (Emily), Elden Henson (Roger Calhoun), Martin Sheen (Coach Duke Goulding) and John Heard (Dean Bob Brable).


The Package (1989, Andrew Davis)

If it weren’t for the cast and direction, I’m not sure how The Package would play. The combination of Gene Hackman and Andrew Davis makes the film, which has a bunch of problems, noteworthy. Davis gives the film enough grit and realism to make it seem wholly believable, just so long as one doesn’t think about it much while watching it.

After a couple starts, about thirty minutes in, it becomes clear The Package is an assassination thriller. Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly compelling assassination thriller. Without Hackman holding it together, it’d fail. Even worse, the first two starts promise something far more interesting and unique.

Even the assassination thriller part starts better than it ends. With a slightly different approach, The Package would be a road movie. It’s still basically arranged in that manner–principle supporting characters show up in sequence, not all at once. First it’s Tommy Lee Jones (in a glorified cameo, which is too bad since he and Hackman are great together), then Pam Grier (solid in a thankless role) and finally Dennis Franz (playing a family man variation of his cop standard). Joanna Cassidy shows up between Jones and Grier and sticks around.

Nearly all the supporting cast is excellent, regardless of how much they have to do. Kevin Crowley, Chelcie Ross, Thalmus Rasulala–small roles, great performances (Rasulala doesn’t even get a name).

The only weak performance is John Heard, which hurts me to even type but he’s just bad.

The Package is okay, if problematic.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Davis; written by John Bishop; director of photography, Frank Tidy; edited by Billy Weber and Don Zimmerman; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Michel Levesque; produced by Beverly J. Camhe and Tobie Haggerty; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Gene Hackman (Sgt. Johnny Gallagher), Joanna Cassidy (Eileen Gallagher), Tommy Lee Jones (Thomas Boyette), John Heard (Col. Glen Whitacre), Dennis Franz (Lt. Milan Delich), Pam Grier (Ruth Butler), Kevin Crowley (Walter Henke) and Chelcie Ross (Gen. Hopkins).


Between the Lines (1977, Joan Micklin Silver)

There are some good scenes in Between the Lines and some good performances… but thanks to director Micklin Silver’s direction, a lot of it feels like a really unfunny episode of a sitcom. “A very special episode” or something. It’s like maudlin moments strung over ninety-some minutes only to bounce up at the end. The film also suffers from an aimless, meandering story. There are four subplots making up the film and it manages to go pretty well without a real plot, because the romance between John Heard and Lindsay Crouse, which is aimless and meandering too, but Heard’s good–for the most part–and Crouse is appealing. Micklin Silver doesn’t direct the actors very much and some of takes she went with really shouldn’t have been printed. Anyway, the film pretends it doesn’t have these plots and is somehow anti-plot… which only makes the plots more obvious.

There’s the love story, the young American author and girlfriend, the scandal and the buying of the newspaper. The first one gets a lot of attention, but none of the others get enough. It’s unbelievable, for example, anyone would date Stephen Collins before he signs his book contract and becomes a jerk who wears sunglasses in clubs, much less after. The scandal is stupid, gives Bruno Kirby something to do (like he’s being groomed for when the sitcom’s lead leaves). The buying of the newspaper is what it is–obviously and convenient, since the movie ends five minutes after the scene.

Where Between the Lines is not standard is in how much Micklin Silver shows of people’s interactions with each other. There some great raw scenes in here and there’s a real sense of reality (even if she does earn all those tickets she spends it all on a big dumb teddy bear in the shape of Raymond J. Barry–who is great in his scene, which consists of him, quite unbelievably, wrecking havoc in the newspaper office). So, by the end of the movie where Lane Smith turns out not to be the progressive, free-thinking new boss and is instead just corporate jackass… well, it came as little surprise. The subsequent day dream sequence, on the other hand, was simply inexcusable.

The performances, besides Stephen Collins and Jon Korkes and most of Gwen Welles (except her character is unbelievable), are all good. Jeff Goldblum’s funny, Marilu Henner has a nice small part; the big surprise is Jill Eikenberry, who is fantastic. Joe Morton has a small role and he’s good.

There’s actually an accounting geek in the office who wears bow-ties and is the butt of all the hip people’s jokes. It’s ludicrous and makes the whole movie feel a little like a self-aware farce. Until reality returns and it becomes clear… it isn’t a joke.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joan Micklin Silver; screenplay by Fred Barron, based on a story by Barron and David Helpern; director of photography, Kenneth Van Sickle; edited by John Carter; music by Michael Kamen; produced by Raphael D. Silver; released by Midwest Films.

Starring John Heard (Harry Lucas), Lindsay Crouse (Abbie), Jeff Goldblum (Max Arloft), Jill Eikenberry (Lynn), Bruno Kirby (David Entwhistle), Gwen Welles (Laura), Stephen Collins (Michael), Lewis J. Stadlen (Stanley), Jon Korkes (Frank), Michael J. Pollard (The Hawker), Lane Smith (Roy Walsh), Joe Morton (Ahmed), Richard Cox (Wheeler), Marilu Henner (Danielle) and Raymond J. Barry (Herbert Fisk).


Head Over Heels (1979, Joan Micklin Silver), the director’s cut

Chilly Scenes of Winter (the title of the 1981 director’s cut of Head Over Heels) painfully chronicles the year in a man’s life after he loses his girlfriend. Painfully is my chosen word for a couple reasons. First, because Joan Micklin Silver doesn’t disguise how messed up John Heard’s character is over the break-up and is just in general. Heard’s character is either the romantic lead in a film from 1979 or he’s the prime serial killer suspect in one from 1999. He lives in a big house, sometimes alone, sometimes letting his friend (a wasted Peter Riegert) stay. He’s got a mother with issues–Gloria Grahame is fantastic–and a step-father he cannot connect with, though the step-father is always trying; the character’s natural father died when he was a child. He’s a weirdo who stalks his ex, who’s returned to her husband. Silver and Heard display all those facets honestly and instead of making for a strange viewing experience, the honestly is a welcome surprise.

The other reason I used the word “painful” is because Chilly Scenes is from a novel and Silver retains a lot of the first person narration. For a ninety-two minute film to waste as much time as this one does filling in back-story with narration from Heard, not to mention the scenes where he talks to the camera or describes how he’s feeling… At times it’s embarrassing for Heard, who does a great job otherwise, with a very difficult role. The viewer doesn’t know the truth. I hate to describe him as an unreliable narrator, but it’s obvious he’s supposed to be one. He practically wears a T-shirt proclaiming the status. Mary Beth Hurt’s character is very obviously messed up and, while the viewer isn’t supposed to think Heard’s taking advantage of her impaired condition, it’s clear she’s emotionally absent. Much like Grahame’s character, but there’s no correlation spelled out in the film. I’m not sure about the novel (though I’d guess it’s in there, in neon).

Heard and Hurt’s scenes are entertaining and full of chemistry, until Heard starts to get scary and it all goes on for too long. And to make something go on for too long in a ninety-two minute movie is something.

The best stuff in the film is the present action, not the flashback, especially the stuff with Kenneth McMillan as the stepfather. The scenes where Riegert and Heard have fun are great too. The movie needed to be centered around his developing relationships with other people, not some malarkey he narrates over and over. It’s like a bad song in a lot of ways, but all the performances are good and Silver is a fine director. She just didn’t break away from the source material enough–it’s one of those films where it might be a close adaptation, which is not the same thing as a good adaptation.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joan Micklin Silver; screenplay by Silver, based on a novel by Ann Beattie; director of photography, Bobby Byrne; edited by Cynthia Schneider; music by Ken Lauber; produced by Mark Metcalf, Amy Robinson and Griffin Dunne; released by United Artists.

Starring John Heard (Charles), Mary Beth Hurt (Laura), Peter Riegert (Sam), Kenneth McMillan (Pete), Gloria Grahame (Clara), Nora Heflin (Betty), Jerry Hardin (Patterson), Tarah Nutter (Susan), Alex Johnson (Elise), Mark Metcalf (Ox), Angela Phillips (Rebecca) and Griffin Dunne (Mark).


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