Archive for the ‘Dennis Quaid’ Category

The Big Easy

21 Apr

The Big Easy – directed by Jim McBride. Romanic Police Procedural. 108 minutes Color 1987.


The Story: An Assistant D.A. searches for police corruption in The New Orleans Police department, and falls for one of the cops


It’s not very convincing as a story, but as a movie it is fetching. Rash improbabilities sabotage our credence. But we have John Goodman in New Orleans where he made an even bigger impression later in Treme. And here is Ned Beatty in his heyday.

Ellen Barkin is here in all her sexy peculiarity. It’s had to believe in her as an actress because she seems so uncertain as to her effects, but there is something appealing about her asymmetrical face. Her whole face appears to be a scar. It isn’t, of course. But it makes her an actress who inspires not admiration but compassion. In this piece she is always slightly ahead of herself, jumping a gun that is never fired.

We also have Dennis Quaid with his clothes off. Quite rightly too, as he had a terrific figure. He is in his early 30s here and looks younger.

Dennis Quaid counts a good deal on a quirky charm and his supernal grin to pull him through the plot. But he’s always worth a visit as an actor. He can always summon the needful.

I have seen him completely naked more than once in films, and it suggests a quality he had and still has as an actor of knowing exactly what to do with a woman when he is with her, exactly what moves to make in front of her, exactly what shall come from his eyes in order to turn her on. He knows how to look at a woman and behave before her as though to convey just what it would be like for her to go bed with him. Now, in some men this might be sleazy, but in Dennis Quaid is ebullient. It is full of fun and wit and a delight in his life. It is a quality rarer in big star movie actors than one might suppose. Charles Boyer possessed it, Sean Connery and Jean-Paul Belmondo possessed it, Marlon Brando possessed it but was seldom called upon to use it.

In this film, this quality makes up the necessary. For Quaid’s sexual confidence, his willingness to drop his drawers, is the exact opposite of Ellen Barkin’s want of experience and total lack of confidence. The result is a chemistry so convincing you forgive the implausabilities of the plot.

Most interesting of all is the presence of the renowned Charles Ludlam, maestro and superstar of The Ridiculous Theatre Company. I remember him playing Camille there, with Garbo’s dresses and manner and a hairy chest topping her crinolines. It was one of the most moving performances I have ever seen. Here he plays a canny Southern lawyer and if you want to see what an actor can do to capture every trick and turn of a character and a type, Ludlam in The Big Easy is a lesson in point.

We also have New Orleans on display, always an interesting diversion, in which, with Barkin, Quaid, Ludlam, Beatty, Goodman and the others, one could do worse than wile away an easy hour.



17 Nov

Truth – written and directed by James Vanderbilt. Docudrama. 125 minutes Color 2105.


The Story: a presidential scandal is discovered by CBS news, aired, and then called into question.


Truth – a good title when so many of us now feel that the news media is lying to us, or prevaricating, or decorating the truth. We now have pretty people voicing what? The moment of Truth is perhaps where this public corruption began.

The virtue of a written news report in a newspaper is that it is the work of one bylined journalist, at the scene. The difficulty of TV and radio journalism, on the other hand, is that the work appears to be done by journalist anchorperson, but is not done by the anchorperson, but by folks behind the scene, a group, a staff. This TV system makes in-depth investigation possible, because it includes big research teams; it leads to perhaps better and thorough verification of assertions. But it also leads to groupspeak. And it also makes such groups vulnerable to management for reasons outside the purview of the fourth estate, as takes place here in the case of Dan Rather.

I worked at CBS News in the early ‘60s. We were lodged in cramped offices on Lexington near Grand Central. It was the moment when Charles Collingwood was leaving CBS news and Walter Cronkite was taking over. I was a person of no importance there; I typed up the monitor for them – so badly, I wonder they could read it. I don’t remember a vast staff, a fancy studio. But one thing is sure: personal presentation counted for a lot. Collingwood was a handsome man; Cronkite a reassuring one. The word itself was, of necessity, secondary to these worthy facades.

Robert Redford plays Dan Rather here, the anchorman for CBS’s 60 Minutes. Rather could not have been better cast. Like an anchorman, Redford has always been an actor who presented a general impression. He was not so much an individual as an ideal type, the type of a handsome blond male of unassailable masculinity and no particular flaw. He filled a bill. Never an actor of rash gifts, his direct opposite as a film star would be James Cagney, a flaw incarnate, someone who could never in million years be cast as an anchorman.

Redford does a great job with this role. The Dan Rather we are shown is just, balanced, fair – and amiable to his staff and to those he interviews – a man of considerable character. The scenes Redford is called upon to enact are among the strongest in the film.

Behind him is his head producer, Mary Mapes, and Truth is essentially her story. Cate Blanchette is an actress at the top of her game, just now, so it’s gratifying to see her seize the role between her teeth and shake it this way and that. I say “the role” and not “the character”. There is really no character here; there is the actress playing scenes. Such is the way it is written. She’s very good. She is playing off her personality, which is certainly good enough.

Truth lies parallel to another big film just now, Spotlight, which, like Truth, gives us the Boston Globe gathering of another great scandal, the collusion of The Catholic Church in the molestation by priests of children. Truth gathers the behind the scenes drama of the story of George W. Bush’s Air National Guard AWOL, an indictment which is obviously true, nailed by the big tablecloth speech of Blanchette at the close.

Elizabeth Moss and Dennis Quaid play members of the Rather team. Stacy Keach is wonderful as the suspect source of the story, and Noni Hazlehurst is outstanding as his wife, steamrollered by the network.

Bring yourself to both these films. The tendency to release biopics as Oscar contenders at the end of the year is part of life nowadays. Neither drama for itself alone, comedy for itself alone have remained worthy our contemplation. But still, see Spotlight and see Truth. And ask yourself: what is to be done?






The Words

24 Aug

The Words —written and directed by Brain Klugman and Lee Sternthal. Drama 102 minutes Color.


The Story: Do you have the right for the truth to set you free, and will it do it, is the conundrum at the heart of this grifter story of a literary theft.


What is the difference between a hunk and a lug? A lug is a hunk without sex appeal. Such is Bradley Cooper in leading roles such as this. He is an actor born to follow, born to play in ensemble, born to suborn his tiny talent as a leading man into a pretty big talent as a character lead. Alas, not here.

Here he heads up and gets made a film by his boyhood chums, and an interesting story it is too – except they don’t know how to tell it. Having written it, they assume it told.

But I labored for the entire film under the delusion that the lecture with which it began was the university professor’s public reading of a biography of the writer Cooper plays.

It is no such thing. It was by the mere chance of watching the Extra Features that I learned the truth – a truth which I shall reveal to you now since it should come as no surprise and no mystery. The book read out loud by Dennis Quaid – an actor of complete mastery in playing emptied souls – is not a biography. It is a work of fiction, which Cooper and others subsequently enact.

It deals with a writer who publishes a book he has not written.

The good part is that the person who has written it turns up and is played by that dab hand Jeremy Irons. An old man, at the end of his days, Irons bodies forth this creature in living grey! He is an actor who seems can do no wrong. He seems absolutely free in his craft. He seems to have a big space around him into which he may toss his inventions. His presence alone makes the picture worth your time.

And so does the question of whether the Cooper character is to ever tell the truth. Or simply ride the wave of the fame which is his and not his at all.

I leave that to your mulling. It is worth the watch to make it.

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Posted in Bradley Cooper, Dennis Quaid, Jeremy Irons: acting god, PERSONAL DRAMA


The Rookie

07 Aug

The Rookie – Directed by John Lee Hancock. Sports Drama. A 40-year-old baseball coach keeps his promise to God. 127 minutes Color 2002.

* * * * *

Carter Burwell’s score draws a line under every scene with the same color as the scene, making the obvious unmistakable. This is exactly the way to score a film such as this, a Disney sermon, which is inspirational and important. Important for people to see who have not fulfilled their promise. Because it’s never too late. When you consider a film like this, it’s easy to see what’s there: story, yes; situation, yes; talented actors, yes; competent direction; yes, proper filming, yes; clear roles, yes. Script, no; characters, no. It’s not that people say what people would never say under the circumstances, so much as it is that they do not say enough and that what they do say lacks the power of personal verbal flavor. This means, with too little dialogue, the actors must fall back on their personal eccentricity, which Rachel Griffiths wisely does, or that actors must fall back on acting, which makes them look ridiculous in the case of that wonderful actor Brian Cox in his final scene (watch him grasp for straws) or like a ham, which is the case with Dennis Quaid. Quaid, always well cast, is an actor of great charm and application. Good looking, with a grin and a smile almost as endearing as Brando’s, and with a winning way about him. He is a terrific male physical specimen and an ideal sort of all-American type (don’t put him costume drama, though; don’t ask him to play a European of any kind).  But over time, he has gotten to be very technical actor, and you can see it in his mouth. He makes faces. (And you rally have to be Greta Garbo to know how to do that.) So he gives less of a gutsy or eccentric or innocent performance than one which fulfills the routines of the script. Still he is a lovable cuss, and has his moments here. The film promulgates bourgeois American virtues and feelings. Why not? That’s Disney’s job always. Someone has to do it. And I need it from time to time. What makes the whole thing work is that the baseball stuff  works like blazes and that it is cast bottom-heavy with superb senior actors who give foundation and validity to the message without spelling it out in any bigger letters than Carter Burwell uses. This clarity makes it possible to turn elsewhere without disgust. Good family fare, to be sure.





Soul Surfer

25 Apr

Soul Surfer – Directed by Sean McNamara. Second Chance Sports Docudrama. A young female athlete tries for a comeback after a terrible accident. 106 minutes Color 2011.

* * * *

This movie has a self-embarrassed Christian side-story, and I am embarrassed by its embarrassment. I am not a practicing Christian, but I find it odd that I know of no modern American film which actually embraces as an ingredient of story the spiritual strength which is to be found in the Christian Church, not by saints, or ministers, but by ordinary persons who are also the leads in films. Am I wrong? In this story, spiritual strength is certainly what is called for when the young lady‘s athletic career seems to be completely compromised by what happens to her.  Like all sports stories, it is the record of triumph against odds. In this case, the sport is the enchanting and unthinkable sport of surfboarding. Wonderful to behold, spectacular beyond imagining, one watches the athletes – all of them female – strut their stuff on the crests. The amazing thing about the sport of surfboarding is it does not take place in the racing surface of terra firma. It’s all done on water! How unusual! So the unheavals of water make it a great treat to watch. However, I wish the spiritual side of the piece had been more fully realized. In many ways, the film seems amateur – as how could it not with thirteen screenwriters – but that does not matter so much, when one realizes that it is the actual story of Bethany Hamilton, an Hawaiian girl who actually went through this ordeal. I wandered into the film because Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid were in it playing her parents. Helen Hunt’s pinched look is a perfect launching point for her skills as an actress which are not pinched, but open, flexible, and immediate. Dennis Quaid is in fine figure, with his intense concern and winning grin. Given the flaccidity of the script, they are both good, and both surf, as well. AnnaSophia Robb plays Bethany most convincingly. It’s a good family film. And for me, as well, it helped once more to dissolve more of my difficulty with handicapped people, and a good job too.


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