Tag Archives: 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).


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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).


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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).


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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).


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