Tag Archives: John Heard

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).


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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).


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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).


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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).


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