Rating: The Good – 67.7 Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller Duration: 118 mins Director: Gregory Hoblit Stars: Dennis Quaid, Jim Caviezel, Shawn Doyle
A pulsating and smart sci-fi thriller infused with unabashed sentiment, Frequency is a movie that ultimately shouldn’t work but does. A troubled homicide detective (Jim Caviezel) accidentally comes in contact with his father (Dennis Quaid) 30 years in the past, just in time to warn him of his impending death. When the father heeds his warnings, the time line begins to change with unexpected consequences and the father and son find themselves tracking down a serial killer in a desperate effort to protect their wife/mother. Given that the central time travelling device here is a ham radio in an electrical storm and that most of the thrills come from the cross-time conversations between the father and son, this script must have been a dilly of pickle to sell. Nonetheless, Gregory Hoblit’s typically polished direction and his quality cast pull it off. Quaid was always a dab hand at playing the heroic everyman and if Caviezel is less familiar in such roles, you’d never know it. And even though they share different ends to a radio frequency there’s lots of chemistry to enjoy too. The real hook here, however, is the plot which works as all good mysteries do, by keeping the audience guessing and their pulses racing. But what truly separates Frequency from the slew of science fiction thrillers is its unapologetic pandering to that audience’s desires, something often considered a compromise from an artistic point of view. Fairytale like resolutions are not necessarily to be avoided, though, and in an age when even Hollywood blockbusters offer up token sacrifices, it might even be a welcomed once-off treat.
Rating: The Ugly – 67.5 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 108 mins Director: Wolfgang Peterson Stars: Dennis Quaid, Louis Gossett Jr., Brion James
“Hell in the Pacific” retold in sci-fi mode with Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr. starring as two enemies stranded on the same planet. Quaid is the human fighter pilot and Gossett is the alien “Drac” who, after an initial period of hostility, begin to work together and ultimately form a bond of friendship. Enemy Mine is one of those enjoyable movies which many of us grew up on and were happy to do so. It came from an era in science fiction writing when good old fashioned story telling was at the heart of the genre and, as a result, the movie works despite some minor issues. The two leads seemed to be having great fun working together and it pays off well given the nature of the story. Quaid was always charismatic and solid in these types of roles while an unrecognisable Gossett (thanks to some excellent make-up) gives a considered and nuanced performance.
This was a troubled production and director Wolfgang Peterson only came on board after much of the movie was shot and, depending on which story you listen to, the exteriors were shot in either Iceland (where much of the initial production was based) or Germany (where Peterson based himself). However, anyone remotely familiar with the raft of sci-fi movies shot in Iceland (Prometheus being the most recent example) will recognise the unique sci-fi friendly Icelandic landscape in many of the scenes, which combined with the top notch matte painting to bring the alien planet to life quite majestically. On the negative side, the sets are less impressive and come across as something form a Star Trek episode. Throw in some childishly conceived alien creatures and parts of the movie definitely become a little kitschy. The ending is terribly rushed and the abrupt change in pace affects the tone of the movie and destabilises much of the acting (in particular Quaid’s) significantly. There’s some gory action thrown in at the end but it’s somewhat unsatisfying given the quality of the opening 90 minutes. Ultimately, however, the movie still works thanks chiefly to the chemistry between the leads and the easy often light-hearted script.
Rating: The Good – 67.9 Genre: Drama, War Duration: 103 mins Director: Predrag Antonijevic Stars: Dennis Quaid, Nastassja Kinski, Pascal Rollin
There’s no two ways about it, this film grabs a hold of you. In a story about an American military agent who after his family are killed in a terrorist attack turns into a rabid anti-muslim and enlists in the Muslim-Serbian war on the Serbian side, the writers were always going to have to take risks in the depicting the main character’s darker actions. Whether it attempts to justify or even forgive some of those actions early on is difficult to tell but given that the audience have to throw in with that character for the entire film it perhaps becomes less important. Either way once that pretext is got out of the way, the story of redemption kicks in wherein he attempts to shepherd a young Serb mother and her newborn to safety across a country that has descended into murderous madness. Dennis Quaid is exceptionally good in the lead role as he has to carry most of the film on his own with little extended dialogue with the other characters. There’s not much action because this is a more pensive war film and it pays off as it allows you to engage with Quaid’s character all the more. In fact, Savior is all about the emotional pay off. No cloying soppiness, just proper direction and Quaid putting the most delicate of touches on an all-round smashing performance.
Rating: The Good – 73.4 Genre: Crime, Comedy Duration: 102 mins Director: James McBride Stars: Dennis Quaid, Ellen Barkin, Ned Beatty, John Goodman
Dennis Quaid plays a young New Orleans police lieutenant who while attempting to get closer to the new assistant district attorney (Ellen Barkin) finds himself knee deep in an apparent drug war that may or may not involve police corruption. The Big Easy is a charming comedy thanks mainly to the charismatic performance from Quaid, the superb chemistry between him and Barkin, and a great Cajun soundtrack. McBride’s direction strikes a good balance between the action and the comedy and John Goodman and Ned Beatty as usual provide great support.
Rating: The Ugly – 67 Genre: Comedy, Science Fiction Duration: 120 mins Director: Joe Dante Stars: Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, Meg Ryan
As one of the more entertaining actors out there, Dennis Quaid was always going to work well in a Joe Dante film and neither disappoint in this original concept movie. Quaid stars as a test pilot who agrees to be miniaturized in a high-tech ship designed to travel through the human body. Things go awry when a spot of industrial sabotage sees him injected into the body of unwitting hypochondriac Martin Short. Considering that Quaid and Short don’t have any actual face-to-face scenes together until the very end of the movie, the chemistry between the two is remarkable and is a testament to their skill as both serious and comedic actors. Short has most of the fun scenes which involve all sorts of mayhem from dangling out of trucks to outrageously funny facial reconstruction scenes (don’t ask). Meg Ryan works very well as the feisty reporter/love-interest and Dante regular Robert Picardo steals the show as ‘the Cowboy’. As you’d expect the set-pieces in Innerspace are terrific and handled wonderfully by Dante but it’s the over all sense of fun that typifies all of Dante’s films that makes this so enjoyable.
Rating: The Good – 72.4 Genre: Sporting Drama Duration: 162 mins Director: Oliver Stone Stars: Al Pacino, Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx
Oliver Stone changed his directorial style during the making of JFK where the telling of a long-winded complex story benefited from a quick, edit-heavy style. Unfortunately, he imposed this style on every subsequent picture he made whether it warranted it or not. And given that most films do not warrant it and from the point of view of his career, he became a worse director for it. However, Any Given Sunday is exactly the type of project that benefits from this style and so his penchant and genuine skill in putting large scale stories to film elevates what could’ve been a disaster into a thoroughly engaging and riveting tale of a franchise American football team struggling to reach the highs of its recent past by overcoming the egos of players and management alike. Granted, if you’re into sports, Any Given Sunday will be all the more enjoyable but being as it is, full of acting heavy weights you typically find attached to a Stone project, this film just plain works even without a love of sports. Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx, and James Woods all do particularly well but this is Al Pacino’s movie from start to finish and there’s that “inches” speech to prove it.
Rating: The Good – 76.6 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 108 mins Director: Christian Alvart Stars: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet
One of those rare non-Hollywood science fiction vehicles that defied low-key expectations and caught everyone by surprise with some top-notch production values and nail-biting action. Pandorum is a terrific ship-based sci-fi about a handful of crew members who wake up out of stasis to find terrifying human like creatures stalking the massive ship and preying on the other 60,000 humans who are still in stasis. The opening half an hour slowly lures you in and when it has a hold of you, it hits you with some genuinely scary sci-fi horror. Ben Foster doesn’t waste his opportunity to take on a more straightforward heroic role than usual and brings a quiet intensity to the part. Dennis Quaid is his usual safe pair of hands as his senior officer and Antje Traue is more than decent in an above average female action role. The action sequences are shot in an appropriately frenetic style by Christian Alvart and come at just the right points in the movie. Though Pandorum is a uniformly excellent piece of film making, it’s the creatures that make it so memorable. This is largely due to some insightful concept and design, but also Alvart’s use of sound and the hugely innovative way in which he captures their movement (especially in the earlier scenes). Suffice to say, if you like proper deep space scariness, this is the film for you.
Rating: The Good – 93.1 Genre: Sporting Drama Duration: 101 mins Director: Peter Yates Stars: Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern
“His legs. He’s shaving his legs!” Two futile tasks regarding the watching of this film are, firstly, to figure out why Dennis Christopher never went on to have the career he clearly deserved and, secondly, to watch it without smiling your way through every scene. The story focuses on four high school graduates from the working class part of a university town who must decide what they want to do with their lives while living in the shadow of the blow-in college kids who seem to have it all. Christopher plays one of these kids, an obsessed and ferociously talented cyclist who temporarily avoids this pressure by assuming an Italian identity in honour of the cycling team he worships, much to the despair of his no-nonsense father (played wonderfully by Paul Dooley). Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, and Jackie Earle Haley play the other kids who each have their own specific ways of confronting the same pressures of life while Barbara Barrie turns in a lovely performance as Christopher’s equally romantic mother.
From the honest and interested manner in which Yates approaches the dilemmas of the young men to the subtle poignancy of their’s and everyone else’s dialogue there is a profoundly touching quality to this film that is accentuated intuitively by the magnificent cast. However, to his credit Yates lets the more heartening elements to the story simmer deep within a series of fun-filled and exhilarating sequences so that when they boil over, they do so in all manner of unique and punctuating ways. From the breathtaking duel between Christopher and the Italian cycling team’s truck, the various confrontations between his friends and the college kids, to the ultimate showdown (which by the way is just about the most electrifying race sequence ever filmed!), Breaking Away is a breath of fresh air for the “coming-of-age” drama. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, Breaking Away is one of the most satisfying of all cinematic achievements and a film you will immediately fall in love with no matter what your taste in film is. It really is as simple as that!
The story of drug trafficking from Mexico to the United States is explored from all sides in Steven Soderbergh’s hugely impressive adaptation of Simon Moore’s miniseries. Moore’s miniseries was groundbreaking in its own right and Soderbergh’s feature does it justice and then some. Michael Douglas leads the star studded ensemble cast as the new US drug czar in Washington whose daughter is a drug addict. Benicio Del Toro is a Mexican state police man caught between his desire to see the drug cartels smashed and the inherent corruption of his country. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the wife of a wealthy drug distributer in San Diego who has been arrested by DEA agents Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman. Soderbergh used different gradings for each of the interlinked vignettes with each colour grading reflecting the dominant theme of the location. All perspectives are sewn together with Cliff Martinez’ soft score (recorded in mono) and Steven Mirrione’s equally soft editing. At two hours and twenty minutes, it’s a long watch but if anything it needed to be slightly longer to better account for Zeta-Jones’ character. However, Traffic is nonetheless an outstanding achievement in story telling but more important is its bravery as it attempts to show the cold hard reality of the drug world while explicitly choosing not to provide any token answers.
Rating: The Good – 91 Genre: Drama Duration: 193mins Director: Philip Kaufman Stars: Sam Shepard, Dennis Quaid, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris
One of the wittiest and most compelling historical dramas you’re ever likely to see, The Right Stuff details the events leading up to and including Nasa’s first manned space flights (the Mercury Mission). A glittering cast of actors play a glittering array of characters but none score better than Sam Shepard’s Chuck Yeger. Director Kaufman rightly went his own way with his adaptation of Wolfe’s book and built the film around the legendary fighter ace. Shepard is near mesmerising as the stoic Yeger but in truth there’s not one actor in the extensive cast who lets the side down. Scott Glenn, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward, and Ed Harris in particular are fantastic as the famous Mercury astronauts. Kaufman deserves huge credit for the way he brings this expansive story together as he crafts an extremely intelligent, often funny, often cutting satire of politics, ego, and personal ambition. However, rather than take the easy way out, he remains true to spirit of the book and skillfully interweaves the far more optimistic story about passion and dedication into the fabric of this ostensible critique. The result is a hugely complex and profoundly uplifting experience worthy of the esteemed literary source which spawned it.
There have been many attempts to get the dreamscape scenario right in film and television (including some much vaunted and ridiculously overhyped recent efforts) but this obscure little sci-fi thriller from the 80’s has probably come the closest. Dennis Quaid is a charming young psychic who has left a life of experimentation where he played guinea pig to a group of curious scientists to instead use his abilities to make a quick buck. Convinced to return to the program to help out with a government funded project involving “dreamwalking”, he finds himself tied up in a national conspiracy involving psychopaths and sinister CIA operatives.
Despite its relatively flat dialogue, the characters and the actors who play them along with some perceptive direction raises Dreamscape above most of the low-budget sci-fi thrillers of its time. Quaid is a great lead and full of his usual charm and personality while David Patrick Kelly is deliciously creepy as the villain. Kate Capshaw is a vibrant co-star while Max Von Sydow and Christopher Plummer add some welcome gravitas to the lineup. Furthermore, director Joseph Ruben ensures the dreams are caught in a wonderfully hazy style that mimics the randomness of the genuine phenomenon (far from the slick contained and utterly unrealistic dreamscapes of Inception). Better still, the more nightmarish scenarios are really quite terrifying reinforced by some nasty incarnations of fear and Kelly’s cleverly written and nicely played character. Moreover, rather than some clumsy notion of dream purgatory, the jeopardy within the dreams is realised much more directly as it becomes the fear itself. Of course, they do also fall back on the life-death reality-dream conflation but even here they work it into the plot centrally so that it seems more reasonable than it has in the countless Star Trek and Inception like attempts where it was always an indirect possibility that was tacked on to compensate for a distinct lack of drama that their pretext for dreamscaping produced in the first place (i.e., helping a colleague overcome a deeply rooted and life threatening conflict and spying on the dreamers’ innermost secrets).
Ultimately, the best thing you can say about this one is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It just sets out to be a good thriller and doesn’t get caught up in deluded notions of cleverness. After all, dreamscape scenarios are themselves always teetering on the comic book end of the sci-fi spectrum and don’t suffer earnestness too well.