Tag Archives: Mary Stuart Masterson

Bed of Roses (1996, Michael Goldenberg)

A couple immediate thoughts occurred to me as Bed of Roses started. First, is it a good idea to be watching Bed of Roses? (Spoiler: no, it’s not). Second, what’s going on with Mary Stuart Masterson’s performance? It’s not a movie saving performance because it’s a terrible part. Only director Goldenberg (who also wrote the film) really wants to make it seem to be a good part. Bed of Roses is a lower, but still reasonably budgeted nineties version of a New York soap opera. Masterson’s the professional woman who just doesn’t have it all, even though it seems like she does. She meets a guy–Christian Slater–who is stalking her and grooming her but it turns out his really okay and wonderful and is just what she needs to get over a childhood of exceptionally bad abuse.

Except Bed of Roses doesn’t talk about the abuse. Masterson’s got this character who is never allowed to develop. It’s mortifying, but that weird thing about Masterson’s performance is she’s great. She is great at making this character, who gets treated terribly by the script and has absolutely no depth beyond being a victim and then awkward holding a baby, she does great. She doesn’t make the character work, she doesn’t make the film work. But she delivers this tragic, terribly written role. She’s acting opposite Christian Slater, after all, and he doesn’t bring anything to the film. He actually seems to enjoy the parts where he’s being manipulative more than the parts where he’s courting.

So, no, I shouldn’t have watched Bed of Roses, but I’m still stunned by how good it is at what it does. Goldenberg does a fine job directing. Sure, he’s stuck with Slater, but he takes full advantage of the more capable actors–Josh Brolin, Ally Walker, Brian Tarantina. It feels serious. Adam Kimmel’s gorgeous photography, Michael Convertino’s score, Jane Kurson’s editing. Bed of Roses can’t be better at what it does. It’s beautifully executed. It’s just manipulative and condescending.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Michael Goldenberg; director of photography, Adam Kimmel; edited by Jane Kurson; music by Michael Convertino; production designer, Stephen McCabe; produced by Allan Mindel and Denise Shaw; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Mary Stuart Masterson (Lisa), Christian Slater (Lewis), Pamela Adlon (Kim), Josh Brolin (Danny), Ally Walker (Wendy), Kenneth Cranham (Simon) and Brian Tarantina (Randy).


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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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Heaven’s Prisoners (1996, Phil Joanou)

I probably read Heaven’s Prisoners, the novel, about eighteen years ago; I don’t remember it. But I’m sure this adaptation is faithful to the events of the novel because this movie is a mess and there’s no good reason for it.

The novel can have space for a mystery and a character drama, but–at least under Joanou’s exceptionally bad direction–there’s no way the movie can have enough room. A decision needed to be made, whether they wanted to make a mystery, an alcoholism drama or a revenge thriller and no one seemed willing to make it. So instead of Heaven’s Prisoners, the film, succeeding, it fails.

It’s not a complete failure. Alec Baldwin is a problematic lead, but decent enough. Had he and nemesis Eric Roberts switched roles, the film would have been amazing, Joanou or not. Roberts is still great as a bad guy.

Also phenomenal–a word I rarely use–is Mary Stuart Masterson, who really gets the short end of the adaptation stick. In order to match the novel’s conclusion, the screenwriters fail her character. It really is one of the worst adaptations… the narrative structure, an abridging of the novel, is disastrous.

Bad acting from Kelly Lynch and laughably awful from Teri Hatcher make for painful scenes, but they don’t really do more damage than the direction.

Joanou somehow manages to suck the life out of New Orleans and Louisiana’s swamps, making them incredibly boring.

Inappropriate and bad music from George Fenton hurt it too.

It’s still worthwhile.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Joanou; screenplay by Harley Peyton and Scott Frank, based on the novel by James Lee Burke; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by William Steinkamp; music by George Fenton; production designer, John Stoddart; produced by Leslie Greif, Andre Morgan and Albert S. Ruddy; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Alec Baldwin (Dave Robicheaux), Kelly Lynch (Annie Robicheaux), Mary Stuart Masterson (Robin Gaddis), Eric Roberts (Bubba Rocque), Teri Hatcher (Claudette Rocque), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Minos P. Dautrieve), Badja Djola (Batist), Samantha Lagpacan (Alafair), Joe Viterelli (Didi Giancano), Tuck Milligan (Jerry Falgout), Hawthorne James (Victor Romero), Don Stark (Eddie Keats), Carl A. McGee (Toot) and Paul Guilfoyle (Det. Magelli).


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