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Some Fine Performances in an Ultimately Weak Film
19 July 2013
Let me say up front that I think it's incredibly difficult and rare for a first time film director to have the discipline to effectively direct his own script. Granted Ryan Craig's written and directed a couple of TV movies, but things change a lot when you're doing a real grownup film. The chance to see your every word and decision on the big screen makes it agonizing to cut a single scene... hey! You wrote that! That said, there are some excellent performances from a cast loaded with accomplished actors, not least Shawn Christian who's best known for his soap opera career and Chris Pine who gets to indulge his hunky looks while playing some seriously downer scenes. I don't think John Hawke (Winter's Bone and The Sessions) is capable of a bad performance and this one gives him plenty of room.

I gave it a 5 because of the writer-director's failure to make the fullest use of this wealth of talent, but since the film is playing on HBO and it's not a halfbad way to spend an evening.
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Broken City (2013)
This Movie Needs a Collar and a Leash
26 May 2013
The bad news is that this is Brian Tucker's first produced film script. One wonders what in the name of Hollywood made Mark Wahlberg want to produce it. It's rife with clichés, unlikely twists, unlikelier character development, and plodding plotting. One of my favorite scenes typifies the film's sensibility. It the has the Mayor's wife- complete with bodyguard and limo- conducting a secret rendezvous on a riverfront promenade... disguised by a scarf and BIG sunglasses on a gray overcast day.

The worse news is that some really competent, if not gifted, actors waste their time here. Whatever money they were paid was not worth the waits.

And the worst news is that according to IMDb, Tucker has another script in pre-production. The new one is called "Expiration" and people who really enjoy movies should hope that the title is predictive of the script's shelf life.
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The Witch's Daughter (1996 TV Movie)
Too Many Holes
13 February 2012
It's a pleasant movie particularly for pre-teens but it has so many moments when characters do completely illogical things that it begins to generate groans of "Oh come on," and I'm not referring to the psychic plot points which are perfectly acceptable given the nature of the story.

The acting is competent, if not particularly inspired, all around but the reviewer who criticized the "robust cheerfulness" of the young actress who plays Perdita was spot on.

I kept watching in no small measure because of the location shots which are lovely, but if I were Scottish, I'd be thoroughly cranky about the clichéd stereotypes written for most of the supporting characters.
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Making a Clean Breast... or 60... of It
29 December 2010
This turkey has more breasts than Butterball in the third week of November.

In one of the other reviews, the reviewer suggests that you could be forgiven if, at first, you think this is nothing but a soft-core porno pic... I would suggest that you're deeply mistaken if, by the end, you think it's anything else. And worse yet, it has fewer breasts and even fewer laughs (intentional or otherwise) than Bob Guccione's "Caligula," with which it shares a certain sensibility.

Think of it as "The Decameron" written and directed by Benny Hill, post mortem.
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When in Rome (2010)
Two Davids Who Could Make You Love Goliath
29 August 2010
Somebody stop these guys before they film again!! The guys in question would be the two Davids (Diamond and Weissman) who are jointly responsible for a stream of "comedies" that shouldn't even have gone straight to DVD.

In the last decade they have "clabber-ated" on "The Family Man," "Evolution," "Old Dogs," and this series of schtick pieces strung together and called a movie. In the process they've sullied the reputations of numbers of established actors including David Duchovny, Tea Leoni, Don Cheadle, Julianne Moore, John Travolta, and Robin Williams... not to mention a series of once-was-es,wanna-bes, and on-the-verge-ofs in "Rome." In fact, they seem to specialize in finding engaging actor/personalities whose agents are willing to book them into fizzy dreck just to keep those commissions coming... actors who MAY make disguise the fact that the two D-minuses haven't had an original thought between them since 1995.

At least their next project reveals their talent level before it's even released: Police Academy 8. I guess if we can't stop them from working, that's the next best thing.
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Mamma Mia! (2008)
Beware of Permanent Brain Damage
2 September 2009
Finally a film of such appalling ineptitude that 1973's "Lost Horizon" can be retired from its place as The Worst Musical Ever Made.And I thought it would never happen.

I saw snatches of this turkey on a very very long plane ride and live with the memory still... the memory of my fellow passengers who were actually watching it begin to drool copiously as their eyes glazed over and their features sagged uncontrollably.

I would encourage you not to watch this movie but if you must, do it with someone you hate... someone willing to pull the plug on you, if not your DVD.
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Moonlight (2007–2008)
Dark, Intelligent, Engaging, Violent and Sexy
10 November 2007
Dark, intelligent, engaging, violent and sexy. Moonlight manages to be all of the above and does it with a consistent and coherent internal logic.

It's a thoroughly modern, 21st Century vision of the Vampire myth... complete with the good guy buying his supply illicitly from the local blood bank... whenever possible. Vampires can now have their pictures taken: "Don't you just love digital photography?" the hero says at one point, "So much better than back in the day when we didn't register on film." The scripts don't dumb anything down from the violence and story arches to the sexual tension and adult relationships. Jason Dohring is cast to Veronica Mars-type in a supporting role that I hope is expanded. My initial response to Sophia Myles as the private detective hero's intrepid reporter love interest was tepid at first but has improved as I've watched the chemistry between her and Alex O'Loughlin come to a slow boil.

And speaking of Alex O'Loughlin - sorta dark, fairly intelligent, very engaging, appropriately violent, and very very very sexy.
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Bandidas (2006)
A Trio of Charmers
18 August 2007
This bit of fluff is a great way to spend a couple of rainy hours while you're also doing something else... computer work, your stationary bike, or the lighter sections of your Sunday paper.

The attraction is in the three leads - Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek, and Steve Zahn. All of whom somehow avoid the sort of mugging that all have been guilty of at one time or another. Or perhaps Luc Besson's Zorro-esquish/Two Marias-ey script is so silly that whatever mugging they do seems within the acceptable range. Whatever the reason, they are all three very engaging and sweetly funny and their interactions, when they finally start, move the movie along nicely.

However you approach it, this viewing experience is far superior to Sahara, the other time Zahn and Cruz appeared together... McConaughey's absence makes the heart grow fonder.
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This is Your Brian on Drugs...
25 July 2007
This is a rare work of art in which the goddesses Chaos and Lethargy compete, listlessly, for your attention. Somewhere in here is a decent film noir mystery, but it's suffocated by atmospherics and confused by incoherence. It makes you wonder if Brian DePalma could have been quaffing codeine toking torpedoes, and lapping down 'ludes through the whole process.

The performances range from overwrought to under-baked with very little in between. Hillary Swank does a dirty Kate Hepburn, badly. Fiona Shaw channels Bette Davis, grotesquely. Scarlett Johannson mimes Lana Turner, stiffly. And, in one of the very few bright spots, Josh Hartnett bares his bum, too briefly.

I watched this thing all the way through because I was ill and I was too uninvolved to change the channel. When it was over, I couldn't decide which I needed more- a nap, a drink, or a shower.

One of the 500+ other reviewers says he gave Black Dahlia four stars in a generous mood. I feel the same way about giving it two.
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The Road Home (1999)
The Sweetness of Honey with the Angry Bees Implied
24 February 2007
This visually gorgeous, beautifully framed film– actually titled "My Father and My Mother"– is, in addition to being a simple story of a great love fulfilled, a modest, indirect political document. Most of the people reviewing it seem to set it in "ancient" China when, in fact, it is set in the time of Chairman Mao's devastating Cultural Revolution.

The love story between a simple illiterate village girl and the young man sent to teach the children of her village is played out patiently and gently. The rich colors and framing keep the eye involved and would have been straight-forwardly sweet, like honey in the hive, but for the stinging bees of the Cultural Revolution who call the young teacher back to the city for disciplining and then don't let him return until.....

Given that Zhang YiMou couldn't produce a film directly critical of the Chairman and his blood thirsty hordes, he's stated the criticism laterally, by implication, and beautifully.

I'm giving it 9 stars, which is just a little generous, but not much.
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BloodRayne (2005)
Limp Softcore Porno Trash
12 December 2006
Cheers, Bloodzombie77! You're right on the money but maybe too kind.

Limp softcore porno trash, this waste of film and money reminds me Bob Guccione's Caligula, only nowhere near as good. I believe absolutely that just as there are standards that allow you to be a member of the Director's Guild, the Writers' Guild, the Screen Actors' Guild, and Actors' Equity... there should also be standards that allow them to take points away, so that eventually your union card will be revoked for the good of the guild, the industry, and the glorious Homeland. We can start with Sir Ben (who actually seems to be acting, sort of) and work our way down to Michael Madsen who is actually worse, WORSE than Meatloaf. I've seen semi-literate Southern Illinois high school read Shakespeare better than Madsen is able to deliver the overblown but simple-minded verbal dreck that Guinevere Turner "wrote" for him (pull her WGA card and sentence her to life at hard labor teaching English as a second language in rural Albania).
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This is Your Red Herring on Drugs
30 September 2006
This is not one of the worse adaptations of Stephen King's work, but it's another one that makes the successful ones (De Palma's "Carrie," Reiner's "Stand by Me," and Kubrick's "The Shining" come immediately to mind) seem all the more remarkable. Jonathan Jackson does a fine job of playing a self-absorbed and death-fixated jerk. David Arquette does a fine job of playing a weirdo, which I know comes as a shock, but this one is threatening. It's nice to see Barbara Hershey and Cliff Robertson working, but the film is an incoherent, drug-trippy, red-herring-loaded road movie in which each succeeding segment and flashback builds to a huge.... mind-numbing yawn. If you fast-forward to long segments you may miss some details but in the end, you won't care.
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An Ensemble of Superb Performances
28 August 2006
I didn't start watching this film enthusiastically but three names in the cast roster pulled me in- Tina Holmes, Devon Gummersall, and Eion Bailey. Holmes made me a fan in HBO's Six Feet Under. Gummersall turned in an amazing performance in Showtime's The L Word. And even if Eion Bailey hadn't delivered a really fine long developing character arc (one among many) in Band of Brothers, he's so freaking beautiful I'd probably Tivo one of SciFi's worst dogs if he had a couple of scene... but I digress. I was unfamiliar with the other five actors in this remarkable ensemble piece but I'll be watching for them now. There are larger and smaller roles in the film, but there are no greater and lesser performances - each actor is given the opportunity to create a nuanced character and every one of them delivers the goods. It's also quite remarkable to me that that this is Derek Simonds' first writing/directing effort and after 5 years it's STILL his only credit on IMDb. I'm only giving it 8 stars because it took a little longer than it absolutely had to, but I have no idea whose performance I'd have trimmed if the choice were mine. Bravo!
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A Supporting Cast Worth Watching
15 July 2006
The weakest elements of this uncharacteristically romantic Hitchcock courtroom drama are the leads- especially the very handsome young Gregory Peck- and the oddly romantic ending. It gets a seven, however, because Laughton, Ethel Barrymore, the coldly handsome young Louis Jourdan, and the rest of the supporting cast do what great supporting casts are supposed to do... they offer nuance, strong characterization, and tension. Laughton is particularly effective, not only in the courtroom but in the uttterly unexpected subplot of his relationship with his wife, played superbly by Barrymore. There are other, better Hitchcock films, but this one is well worth watching.
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Brains and Beauty... and Beauty
20 May 2006
Richard Ruccolo is remarkable- hot and engaging and intelligent and brittle attractive and unlikable and totally human and recognizable in this film. And that pretty much describes the film as well. It takes something special to get me to watch any movie more than once. I've watched this one, in parts or in total, a half dozen times. I start because I really like watching Ruccolo and then stay because the supporting cast is as good as you'll find in any major studio "romantic comedy" (including a hoot-out-loud cameo by Lisa Kudrow) and the script is much, much smarter than most. Actually, I'm watching the movie as I write this and I have to stop and pay more attention because it's better than I remembered.
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So Notorious (2006– )
Tori! Tori! Tori!
29 April 2006
No, this is not another Pearl Harbor epic, though it comes as almost as big a surprise. This is, in fact, the show that I hoped "Fat Actress" and "The Comeback" might be and deserves equal footing with "Entourage." It's often laugh-out-loud funny, mixing sophisticated sarcasm with broad physical comedy. Who knew Tori Spelling could be an accomplished comic actor, with a major gift for impeccable timing and dead-pan delivery (actually, I've seen her do dead-pan delivery before, but never to such great and intentional comic effect). That she can even participate in such a dead-on send up of her industry in general and her self and her family in particular earns her great, noisy props!
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