Tag Archives: John Spencer

Cold Around the Heart (1997, John Ridley)

From the first few minutes—after lengthy opening titles (if only one knew it’d be Mason Daring’s worst score ever)—it’s immediately clear something is terribly wrong with Cold Around the Heart. David Caruso and Kelly Lynch are awful in the opening scene, followed by a terrible cameo from Richard Kind. Except, during Kind’s atrocious appearance—where it becomes obvious Ridley’s script is going to have some terrible, post-Tarantino dialogue—Caruso is all of a sudden really good.

And Caruso stays good for most of the film. He’s never good with Lynch, who’s astoundingly bad throughout, but he never repeats the awfulness of the first scene.

Stacey Dash shows up as a hitchhiker—Caruso and Lynch are stick-up artists; Lynch betrays Caruso and he’s after her—and she and Caruso form an odd friendship. Dash has a lot of problems, most she has nothing to do with. Ridley cast her, around the age of thirty, as a fifteen year-old. She can’t surmount that one. But she gets good throughout and she and Caruso’s relationship is refreshingly honest.

The best performance in the film is from Chris Noth, who shows up in the second half. John Spencer shows up for a bit and is, unfortunately, lame. Much like Pruitt Taylor Vince, it appears to be Ridley’s fault. He can’t direct actors.

On the whole, Ridley composes shots well and Malik Hassan Sayeed is an excellent cinematographer.

It’s a bad film. It’s got good elements, but it’s quite bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by John Ridley; director of photography, Malik Hassan Sayeed; edited by Eric L. Beason; music by Mason Daring; production designer, Kara Lindstrom; produced by Craig Baumgarten, Dan Halsted and Adam Merims; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring David Caruso (Ned), Kelly Lynch (Jude), Stacey Dash (Bec), Chris Noth (T), John Spencer (Uncle Mike), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Johnny Cokebottles), Richard Kind (Nabbish) and Mark Boone Junior (Angry Man).


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In the Arms of a Killer (1992, Robert E. Collins)

Someone with a lot of time–and a low propensity for retching–could probably do a fine comparison between television cop movies of the late twentieth century and b-movies of the decades immediately prior. In the Arms of a Killer is absurdist in its portrayal of police investigation, between John Spencer’s disgruntled detective smoking cigars first thing in the morning (at crime scenes, ashing over evidence, I’m sure), Jaclyn Smith’s rookie detective being promoted from… I think it’s some kind of civilian job, Spencer breaking and entering (with his handy, leather-bound lock pick kit), to I don’t know what. It’s a constant assault on the sensible.

But none of these elements, or even the ones my brain has (thankfully) already expunged), are particularly damning. Any number of solid police thrillers have such elements. What’s different about this one is the writing. Robert E. Collins is an old TV director, so the technical competence shouldn’t be surprising (it is surprising, while watching the movie, since the events transpiring on screen are so stupid). Collins has a nice moving camera, gets away with the impression of a lot of long takes, uses color to symbolize. He’s absolutely solid as a director. As a writer, he’s a joke.

Spencer hates rich people. From Smith’s character’s last name (Quinn), he can tell where she’s from on Long Island and her family’s financial history. I’m not familiar with the Quinns of Long Island (are they descendants of Dr. Mike?–Arms of a Killer is badly written to the point I’m admitting I can make “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” references… wow). I’m not sure what else Spencer has as a character except that constant and goofy hatred. He’s a good guy underneath it all of course, I’m sure. Watching Spencer have to chum out one liners at every scene break is painful enough, but having to listen to him deliver that wretched dialogue is painful. It’s clear Spencer’s a good actor, even if this performance is bad–due to the script–and, given I watched the movie because of him, it’s terrible he never got recognition until so late in his career.

As for Smith… she’s just awful. Her hair never moves and neither does her face. Every delivery is wooden (and unbelievable). I can’t believe Smith made a career out of being in lousy TV movies, especially given the incompetence of her performance. You’d think someone would have realized how stupid the dialogue sounded when she delivered it.

Unfortunately, it isn’t Spencer who manages to rise above the material. Instead, it’s Michael Nouri, who also did a lot of similar garbage, who turns in a reasonable performance. Nouri seems disdainful of the material as he delivers it and maybe it endears him to the viewer. It’s like he’s the viewer’s friend, acknowledging the viewer–just like he is–is wasting time on this movie. Precious time never to be recouped… except for Nouri, of course, since he at least got paid for it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Robert E. Collins; director of photography, Anthony B. Richmond; edited by Robert K. Lambert; music by Lee Holdridge; production designer, Anthony Cowley; produced by Ronald A. Levinson; released by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Jaclyn Smith (Maria Quinn), John Spencer (Det. Vincent Cusack), Nina Foch (Mrs. Venible), Gerald S. O’Loughlin (Art Seidensticker), Sandahl Bergman (Nurse Henninger), Linda Dona (Chrissy), Kristoffer Tabori (Dennis) and Michael Nouri (Brian Venible).


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Sea of Love (1989, Harold Becker)

So, I was worried about Sea of Love. After all, the last movie Richard Price is credited with writing is Shaft (though I realize it was changed from what he wrote by Singleton, who’s just a screenwriting dynamo). So, I was worried. Sea of Love was a film I loved–absolutely loved–when I first got into film, when I finally decided I needed to sit and watch a film, not read at the same time, not sit in the room while it played. Frighteningly, this evolution was late in life–it was 1994 or so, when I was sixteen, the Robocop Criterion laserdisc. I sat and watched it.

I’ve seen Sea of Love since, of course. Universal was a great laserdisc company in the 1990s and I had the Sea of Love laserdisc (I still might, in storage, since I never got around to selling M-Z). The first DVD release was pan and scan, so I missed that, but Universal did a widescreen edition and I rented it from Blockbuster–Netflix is no good if there are two versions.

Sea of Love is a great film. Richard Price’s writing is beautiful. For the first three quarters of the film, until the mystery takes over for a half hour, the nuance is unbelievable. Characters saying things, the meanings involved, just beautiful. Sea of Love is, I think, the last film written by the novelist Richard Price, everything after was by screenwriter Richard Price, who was still good, but reserved the good stuff for his novels (Clockers, incidentally, came from the research he did for Sea of Love).

It’s one of Pacino’s two or three best performances. I actually don’t know, off the top of my head, what I’d assign to the other two slots, because you have to decide between Pacino the star (as much as he is–Pacino is a star in The Godfather, Part II and Heat) and Pacino the regular guy. Pacino’s a regular guy in Sea of Love, when he’s in a fight, there’s a chance he might not make it. Sea of Love is from the era before the happy ending… Though Price would argue otherwise (sorry, I’ve read his collected screenplays and the studios always changed his downer endings).

It’s Ellen Barkin–I never realized how much I miss Ellen Barkin. I’m aware of how much I miss actors like Madeleine Stowe and (good) Elisabeth Shue, but Ellen Barkin’s from before that era of recognition. Barkin’s someone who should have transitioned to some great TV in the early 1990s, she should have gone to “Homicide” or something (damn you, Barry Levinson, you know her!).

I really need to see Night and the City now. I actually probably ought to see both of them, but I was thinking the DeNiro/Lange version.

Anyway, if you haven’t or if you haven’t for awhile, see Sea of Love. It’s New York City when that actually meant something, when it was actually a place that changed people, when the city was still alive. I went to New York City, the first time, in 1987 and it was scary. I didn’t leave Manhattan, so it wasn’t quite Fort Apache, the Bronx, but it was ominous. The second-to-last time I went there, maybe third to last, actually, was in 1999, to see a Broadway Show (“The Wild Party”). It wasn’t scary anymore, it was Disneyland. It doesn’t change people anymore….

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Harold Becker; written by Richard Price; director of photography, Ronnie Taylor; edited by David Bretherton; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, John Jay Moore; produced by Martin Bregman and Louis A. Stroller; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Al Pacino (Det. Frank Keller), Ellen Barkin (Helen Cruger), John Goodman (Det. Sherman), Michael Rooker (Terry), William Hickey (Frank Keller Sr.), Richard Jenkins (Gruber), Paul Calderon (Serafino), Gene Canfield (Struk), Larry Joshua (Dargan) and John Spencer (Lieutenant).