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doesn't work as a film-- or as this film
Don't get me wrong it's great to see Washington in a real drama again, but he demonstrates though he's a great actor he doesn't know where the camera should be placed or how to turn a stage play into a film. And even great material becomes static and over-long if a film director doesn't make a film of it. The camera and editing are distracting, the opening scenes look exactly like a stage play and the talk is wall to wall. Other scenes will suddenly cut to a long shot in the middle of something dramatic and often the actors eye lines don't match from shot to shot--the basics of what's know as "the line" are unknown to either camera woman or director or both. It's shot and edited so poorly that you'll feel like the characters have suddenly stopped looking at each other because the camera changes perspective at the wrong times. It even has long fade to blacks at what seem like each act of a 3 act play come to an end--only with the film you get no intermission to digest, it really just seems endless as the final third of the story jumps ahead week and then years.
Most of the play and film are in the backyard and when they attempt to open up the film with other locations it just points out how much time we are stuck in that backyard.
The subplot with the injured war veteran is a disaster on film and feels like deleted scenes from Forest Gump.
Though play write Wilson (and I like his plays a lot) gets screen credit he was dead years before this film was made, and that may be part of the problem as his words have been enshrined rather than adapted. The play itself stops making sense at several occasions and the attempts at little silent montages with music only drag things out, the films feels like it's 4 and a half hours long. The ending doesn't work at all, despite one touching scene between half sister and brother. Cheesy computer created sunlight streaming into the lens meaningfully also falls flat.
Washington's own performance and most of the casts are terrific, but it all falls apart before it's over. Perhaps some of the basic drama of the play can engage people who have never seen Wilson's plays done on stage, or maybe good intentions are enough for some critics starved for a real drama, but I can't say the movie works.
The Curse of King Tut's Tomb (1980)
rather cheesy but for Tut fans worth a sit
This does feature authentic locations--I've been to the tomb and to the Valley of the Kings--and so it was a good choice to actually go film there. However this seems to have taken so much money that the production values get pretty thin. Burr,and, and others wearing dark makeup to pass as Arabs and Egyptians would be one problem but when you can see where their real light skin color sticks out from the sides it's distractingly fake. Music score by Veteran Gil Melle is also rather cheesy--not many players in his orchestra though at least it isn't totally a synth job as would around this time become the norm for TV. The music tends to want to play generic period hotel music rather than effectively sell the spooky and atmospheric elements of the story--which could use the help from music and don't get it.
The tomb artifacts are unevenly done and the whole thing is pretty poorly photographed. The lights go out in the tomb, supposedly, yet it looks like it is lit with car headlights. All these type problems are typical of TV movies on that era. The most famous and beautiful object in the tomb is the famous Golden Mask and this is really poorly done when we see it in the film--otherwise I blame the way things are lit more than the prop man.
Where the story goes wrong is in attempting to show clearly supernatural effects of the curse--all of which are really cheaply done, and yet trying to maintain a semi-realistic true to the facts presentation of the actual discovery. The discovery aspects are much better done than the repeated TV movie zoom shots of statures faces with "scary" lighting. Director Leacock in other work did manage to pull off scares and atmosphere but for probably a variety of reasons he can't do it here. At scorpion attack and snake attacks are really badly done in total Z grade movie fashion.
The script is also pretty cheesy, true the actors do what they can with it. There are probably too many people/characters to really bring across any other them completely. Only Harry Andrews comes across as a total character.
Overall the real Egyptian locations and some passing references and shape of the real discovery hold this together for people pre-disposed to like this kind of thing--as I am. As tourism by proxy it works OK and the period cars and airplanes and such are well done, unfortunately a lot of quick and dirty TV movie problems hamper it.
Office Christmas Party (2016)
A lot of talented new and not so new actors and comedians appear in this and like a lot of movies with too many people in it, none get to do much. The set up takes a long time to build to the party but the set up is better than the pay off. It's just a formless mess by that point, the "jokes" become every character dropping the F bomb and most of the slapstick doesn't work.
Is that really still funny? How many years of R rated movies have we seen and R rated comedies? Jason Bateman gamely goes the distance playing straight man. Aniston does a one note version of her previously funnier, mean heartless bitch roles in Horrible Bosses--only there is not twist or reason for it, other than that the movie needs a villain--I guess.
It's just not very clever or funny. Only Courtney B. Vance manages to make his obvious part funny. I suppose this may be a little harsh there are chuckles here and there but it never really takes off and the "story" and resolution are both obvious and confusing. You never get any sense that this office of people give a crap about each other or their jobs--but then we are asked to root for them?
Of course there is also a fair amount of what should be black humor but only little bits of this work the rest just seem kind of ugly. This movie will try everything to see what works but not much does. A lot of fake looking snow in the film which has a flat video look to it as well. You'll just wish that all these good actors had something genuinely funny or original to do--but if that's your Christmas wish this movie won't fulfill it. You really need a script and a sense of direction---from the directors. Oh there's a guy in a sheep costume too, I give it a 3 instead of a 2 because of that.
The Unseen (2016)
The excitement is Unseen
Most of this is what you'd call kitchen sink drama--or the Canadian version of that. Dour uneventful life presented in a dour uneventful way. The set up is good and the final 20 minutes also finally mix invisible "problem" with real life problem into a satisfying ending. But at 97 minutes you feel you've seen a first draft screenplay for a short film tortured into a feature length.
Now it's not just that there aren't invisible "Gags" every other scene, it's that as a drama it's all very slow paced and in the worst sense Canadian.
Effects, what ones there are, are very well done but the connection and balance of existential invisibility and kitchen sink drama--really melodrama, isn't there.
Another thing is, it chooses to present invisibility as a sort of genetic problem not really talked about. This works well. Then unfortunately they introduce some mystical Chinese tea into the story? Either make this a supernatural or existential story--here they kind of mix the least exciting elements of both.
The writer and director just doesn't really have a handle on what would make this all work.
It has a first timer feel to the pacing--where everything just goes on and on so we hang for every last small nuance of performance. The performances are good, but the whole thing has the pace of a hangover.
Nicely produced. A good idea. But the script isn't there. Somewhere where between the over-the-top dumb exploitation of The Hollow Man and the small mostly-nothing-happens approach to this film is the film they were trying to make. As they say A for effort....
We Go On (2016)
Never falls apart, never takes off.
The structure of the script is quite good. The acting is overall very good, though the lead is a bit monotone. It's hard to play someone who is depressed and quiet and not have it be a bit dull or repetitive to watch and that's what happens here.
So we, the audience know, from the title and from our expectations that there will be some kind of supernatural elements to the film. So eventually this turns into a "I see dead people" type of film. And that's where it starts to have problems. The problem is the more dead people we, and he see, the less impact they have. So the second half of the film unwinds a bit instead of picking up.
Still it's an excellent working out of the idea as a script, if not delivered in a perfectly scary way. Sad to say it could have used better direction. Perhaps having two directors dilutes a more powerful execution, or perhaps a short shooting schedule or other issues prevented totally delivering on the potential of each scene so they all ad up to a good movie. Also it could use a better overall look. It lacks a creepy vibe and atmosphere as a whole.
It could have just turned into schlock which, though perhaps more exciting, in a routine kind of way, would have been too bad.
O Toole is excellent as the mom, as is John Glover--an actor who can ham it up too much--in a smaller role.
Nice use of a real Los Angeles abandoned location near the Airport and large-in-scope film. It's too bad it isn't better than it is as a whole but it could have been so much worse.
The Girl on the Train (2016)
Lifetime movie only not even a good one
Both dull and confusing with a video TV look to it, this is a waste of time in theaters and almost as much of one elsewhere. The opening set up is interesting and the drunken waste of a former life lead character starts out being sympathetic, then it just gets pathetic and helpless.
Not much happens and the opening flashback structure makes it all seem like we missed it happening in the first place. The supposedly erotic elements are brief soft focus non-events. And the lead male character is a whore mongering bastard--that's it no other character details or reasons to him. If this were a movie with the genders reversed women would be protesting the movie and rightly so. But the big sin here is it's all so boring.
All the actors, aside from the lead, give bland performances shot in a bland TV movie fashion and with some very video looking slow motion effects trying to make things seem stylish, but just make you feel like you and the story will never speed up.
A thriller without thrills, characters without depth. Danny Elfman writes an appropriately dull score, but then comes up with a rather exciting end credit piece, perhaps he, like the audience realize the most exciting thing this film has to offer is being over. Skip it.
Science demonstrated creatively
This series was shot in the basement of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. So the show had access to their entire collection and some of their staff. Though it does feature interviews with experts on various topics it frequently used dancers and animated graphics to illustrate its wide ranging topics. One episode on Voodoo features a specific (and terrific) dance group and is impressive in its camera moves and the non-biased treatment of the subject. Another episode on what we today would call Genetics has a circle of dancers advancing towards a rack of various type of masks and by exchanging them with each other they illustrate genetic families and racial types. In an episode on Deafness dancers are on a huge representation of wave lengths.
These are heavily studio bound episodes but another on American Indian tribes of the Northwest features much on location photography. Though not every episode, "works," it's a sincere and sometimes still fascinating show from early educational television. Future horror novelist Frank De Felitta wrote the series though he is credited only as story editor---the closest thing to a writer credit for the series.
Bare Knuckles (1977)
Odd mash up movie
This movie ultimately is a combo of the following elements.
Rocky/ Billy Jack type main character is a struggling boxer who survives by beating up and then turning over to the police various bad guys for a reward. In this way it's a bit of a western. Hero even meets cute with neighborhood gal, like in Rocky.
But then it sort of becomes one of these black tough guy with tough cool black guy partner movies.
But then, it becomes a psycho killer movie. And our hero isn't even on screen for a fair amount of time.
Oh and there is a Kung Fu sidekick/teacher who looks Hispanic but has an Asian name. Go figure?!? Not that these elements don't make it fun--but it never completely becomes a good movie about any of these things. It just shifts gears whenever it wants to. It's mostly done as exploitation--rather than true grit. The hero spends as much or more time being brutalized than he does brutalizing. Though of it's time it also seems out of step with it's time--the gay bar scene is either hilarious or offensive--both really, if you can sit of both sides of the fence at the same time.
In order the enjoy the movie you have to sit on that same fence, don't take it too seriously if you can.
Performances are over the top--by the standards of the day--not by today's ridiculous over the tops standards. Groovy and effective music score and long almost silent final chase scene through rough areas of downtown Los Angeles help wrap it all up. Most of the male cast have the same mustache, just in case you were wondering. One gutsy plot twist and a few very brief moments of social commentary also pop up to keep it lively. A refreshing lack of Hippies--I guess their time had passed by then.
Final Curtain (1957)
Pretty good Wood
Go in understanding this is basically a story or radio play read while an actor reacts and searches through an empty theater. The fact that it was shot at a real, at the time, abandoned theater helps greatly as does Woods good choices of stock music to support the voice over and visuals.
For all that it is kind of creepy and moody--the crazed voice over somehow works with the purposefully twisty words. Wood keeps the visual pace pretty fast as well as far as the editing goes. The acting and voice over are pretty stagey but given the stage setting Wood gets away with this too---it has a legitimate camp value in the true meaning of the word.
Nice final shot too--by the way.
Some of what people love/hate Wood for is really the fact that he almost never had enough money to pull off a film that was slick enough to not have distracting--or at times-hilarious--low budget defects.
With this movie the fact that it's so limited in scope prevents total low budget lapses--for the most part.
If you like CARNIVAL OF SOULS and or DAUGHTER OF HORROR this has some of the effectiveness and mood of those--though this is a short not a feature.
If you like Wood--because you like him or like him because you think he sucks, let's face it you won't want to miss this and should not miss it.
Lights Out (2016)
Weak script, OK execution=unmemorable horror movie.
Look I'm a fan of the genre and it's always great to see a small budget film get made in the United States and get a big release and make money.
I'd love to say the film deserves all this success, but I was let down by it. The writing is pretty poor--the "ghost" is explained in several talky scenes in a row--making for a dull section of it right when it should take off. One scene involving a recorded audio flashback is unintentionally funny.
The whole idea of a ghost that can exist only in the dark you'd think would lead to unexpected scenes or the lights going out or the ghost finding ways to put the humans in the dark, as in DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK--for instance. But instead these scenes just randomly happen and, in a real horror movie cliché, characters are constantly wandering off on their own to put themselves in trouble and then not much real trouble ensues anyway. Once you've seen one such scene in this movie you've pretty much seen all the rest of them, and there are a number of them. None of it builds in pace of suspense of horror.
Sure it could have fallen in for a cliché ending, but they fall into too many traps from other films and it's not well enough directed or acted to overcome predictable stumbling around in the dark sequences--of which there are many more of then there are scary pay offs. No one scene in this film is as good as the cheap short from which it was expanded.
It's relatively bloodless on all levels. If you think this is a great horror movie you really need to spend some time tracking down the truly great ones, cause this ain't in any of those league.