Julianna Margulies

Ghost Ship (2002, Steve Beck)

I am going to set a goal for myself with this post about Ghost Ship; I’m going to try to make it entertaining, which is going to be a challenge because there’s nothing entertaining about Ghost Ship. It’s badly directed and badly written. The actors are bad. They’re good actors and okay actors and mediocre actors but none of them are good, okay, or mediocre in the movie. They’re all varying degrees of bad. Some are embarrassed (Gabriel Byrne), some should be embarrassed and aren’t (Desmond Harrington), some aren’t embarrassed but also aren’t any better for it (Ron Eldard and Karl Urban), some are completely flat (Julianna Margulies), and some literally have to embarrass themselves as part of the movie, in character (Isaiah Washington and Alex Dimitriades, though Dimitriades is bad and Washington is… not always bad).

Now, at the time Ghost Ship came out before many of the cast had their greatest career successes. 2002… Byrne had peaked and maybe Eldard had too, but everyone else (not Dimitriades) had some high profile TV and film work in their near futures. Margulies had “Good Wife,” Urban had Star Trek, Washington had “Grey’s Anatomy,” Harrington had… getting another job after being so godawful in this movie. And “Dexter” and whatever. You know Ghost Ship is going to be bad in some strange way because no one’s ever talking about it, despite it having eventually successful stars. No one talks about it because it’s unspectacularly crappy. The opening’s almost good, but then quickly goes to pot because after implying the movie’s going to have a sense of humor it turns out it won’t. But real quick. Like, before we get to the present day from the Italian ocean liner in the opening sequence.

Present day is the above-mentioned cast members. Besides some ghosts, they’re it for the cast. Ghost Ship tries to be economical but it’s bad at it. Because it’s not just bad dialogue in the film, it’s the structure of the conversations. The writers don’t have an ear for dialogue in general, much less what the actors bring to it. Though the latter is more director Beck’s fault, but it’s hard to blame him because he’s so obviously incompetent it’s not his fault. No one should’ve let him drive this… car; it was irresponsible of producers Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver, and Gilbert Adler and the studio to allow this movie to happen with Beck. Whatever happened, they had it coming.

Because nothing in Ghost Ship works even though nothing’s exceptionally incompetent. Not even the CGI is incompetent. It’s not good, but it’d be a lot better if the shot composition didn’t suck. There’s no aspect of direction Beck’s good at or passing at or not offensive at; he does a real bad job. The whole movie I was waiting for one decent close-up shot of a character, any character, anyone—Beck can’t do it. He just can’t figure it out; he’s not responsible for his actions. His numerous failings as a director are often unrelated to the movie’s problems at any given time. Beck’s incompetencies don’t interact with the script’s incompetencies. There are these two tracks of bad without crossover. Ghost Ship’s greatest success is in showing how various types of badness—writing, directing, casting—don’t necessarily need to interact with one another outside coexisting.

Some of Ghost Ship is see-it-to-believe-it mundane bad. The soundtrack is quite bad, though John Frizzell’s score is one of the least unsuccessful things in the film. The songs they play are bad and poorly cut into the film. Crew-wise Gale Tattersall is a perfectly competent cinematographer, but Roger Barton’s editing is pretty janky stuff. Ghost Ship ought to move better, visually. Beck’s the big problem, Barton’s one of the smaller ones.

The end seems like it was meant to be a little more pompous in its grandiosity—grandiosity with not good CGI—but no matter how the effect would play, it’d still be on the end of Beck’s visually disinteresting movie. Would Beck being good at integrating visual effects improve the movie? No. Nothing would.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Beck; screenplay by Mark Hanlon and John Pogue, based on a story by Hanlon; director of photography, Gale Tattersall; edited by Roger Barton; music by John Frizzell; production designer, Graham ‘Grace’ Walker; produced by Gilbert Adler, Joel Silver, and Robert Zemeckis; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gabriel Byrne (Murphy), Julianna Margulies (Epps), Ron Eldard (Dodge), Desmond Harrington (Ferriman), Isaiah Washington (Greer), Alex Dimitriades (Santos), Karl Urban (Munder), and Emily Browning (Katie Harwood).


The Hot Zone (2019)

I don’t get to make this statement very often anymore and even less about bestsellers and TV miniseries but I’ve read the book.

The Hot Zone. I’ve read the book by Richard Preston (who is sadly not this guy, Robert Preston). Well, okay, I haven’t read the book. I listened to the book. It’s a good book. Highly recommended if you want to see how “popular non-fiction thrillers” can be done well. It’s so good at that format when I listened to Console Wars and got super-creeped out by the casual misogyny, sometimes downright silly bad writing, lionization of middling White capitalists, and odd “Japanese voice” thing, I kept going because it reminded me of Hot Zone.

I eventually gave up on Console Wars because there’s only so much time in the world and the book has actually got zero to say.

But I didn’t give up on “The Hot Zone,” the event miniseries (aired/run on National Geographic, but produced by Fox TV); even though the miniseries only reminded me of The Hot Zone the book, I finished watching it. Because why not. Even though it never gets to the best parts of said book, even though it’s a terribly plotted television show—Kelly Souders, Brian Peterson, and Jeff Vintar are questionable show runners. James V. Hart, who might have written a movie treatment back when Hot Zone was a best-seller and Outbreak hadn’t come out yet, writes a bunch of the episodes too. Or contributes. He gets the “created by” credit, even though he doesn’t write the first episode, which breaks with tradition. At least with tradition as I understand it from watching television too much for too long.

If you’ve read the book and you remember the cave, the cave isn’t in the movie. Instead you get created for the miniseries fictional White guys Liam Cunningham and James D’Arcy hunting the disease in Africa, taking stories away from, you know, Africans. Cunningham is a Scottish Indiana Jones type—the young-age makeup on him, which is mostly just foundation and hair dye, works; it’s a shame Cunningham has zero chemistry with “lead” Julianna Margulies in the present. The present being 1989, flashbacks being 1976. D’Arcy is the square who gets roped into Cunningham’s mad quest to find a lethal virus. The show wants to pretend he’s some kind of zealot but he’s not, neither in script or performance. Maybe it’s because the writers wouldn’t know how to give him that amount of character; the directors (Michael Uppendahl and Nick Murphy) wouldn’t know how to direct for it anyway. They’re really bad.

Canada also doesn’t stand in for Washington D.C. well. The show says it’s “inspired by true events” while the book was true events told in an inspired fashion. It’s a bummer because a good show runner could do wonders with the book. They even have some of the “do wonders” possibilities in the show and do jack shit with them.

The casting doesn’t help either. “Golden Globe-winning star of ‘The Good Wife’” Margulies plays the ostensible lead, who fights against sexism in the U.S. Army’s infectious diseases institutions and basically loses that fight. Margulies’s performance in “Hot Zone” is about the same as a lazy episode of “Good Wife.” She’s fine, never anything more, which is fine for “Hot Zone.” Good for “Hot Zone,” actually.

Topher Grace is bad as her de facto sidekick, the sexist civilian scientist who gets the most sympathetic arc when he thinks he’s got Ebola and has to go to get tested in an AIDS testing speakeasy. The show has this whole juxtaposing of AIDS and Ebola reactions, which I don’t remember in the book but if it was in the book, it wouldn’t have been as poorly handled as in the miniseries. It’s not a bad idea, it’s just the show doesn’t have the producers, writers, or directors to properly explore good ideas. It’s a bummer.

Cunningham and D’Arcy are caricatures, but who cares. They’re not as bad as Grace or as comically ineffectual as Noah Emmerich, who’s Margulies’s husband and the family’s Mr. Mom. One of the many lazy character “development” moments has Emmerich telling Margulies she’s more important to the family than him, even though he’s the only one who does anything with the kids except drive them to school. Once. She takes them once. But only because it can work in the “AIDS panic” sub-sub-subplot and Margulies changing from her Alicia Florick outfit to her Army camo in her car because she’s that kind of go getter.

The show also chokes on the Chuck Shamata as Margulies’s dying dad subplot, which has a lot of potential but not with these writers, not with this show.

Robert Wisdom is fine as Margulies and Emmerich’s commanding officer but it’s more of an extended “Oh, shit, it’s Bunny Colvin!” cameo.

Paul James isn’t good, isn’t bad as Grace’s flunky.

Robert Sean Leonard is similar. He’s there to make things feel less Canadian. Ditto racist Nick Searcy (not his character, just Nick Searcy; he’s not a nice man). Unfortunately, Searcy gives a fantastic performance. At least as far as the script takes him, which isn’t very far because the teleplays aren’t good. Even when they’re not bad.

Twenty-five years after The Hot Zone, given all the advances in scientific knowledge, television narrative, streaming narrative, CG, whatever, you’d think it’d be the perfect time to adapt the book. But “The Hot Zone” ain’t it. I’m not sure Outbreak is much better, minute-by-minute, but it’s a lot shorter and a lot less disappointing.

Read the book.

Out for Justice (1991, John Flynn)

I didn’t hate watching Out of Justice. I didn’t even dislike watching it some of the time. It’s never good, but it’s really dumb and director Flynn knows how to direct a dumb action movie. It feels like it could be a cheap seventies exploitation film–cop hunting gangster on killing spree. Only it’s not exactly cheap. It never looks great, but it never looks cheap. The supporting cast is either familiar character actor types (Jerry Orbach) or solid newcomers (Gina Gershon, Julianna Margulies, Shannon Whirry). It’s professional. It’s a professionally made attempt at trying to convince the viewer Steven Seagal is an Italian-American, Brooklyn native who can kick everyone’s ass and does. It’s not exactly like Steven Seagal’s version of Goodfellas, but it’s closer than not.

Because Seagal wants to act in the film. He tries a lot. He tries so much, so earnestly, he eventually just earns a pass. The ganger on killing spree is William Forsythe. He’s smoking crack and killing almost everyone in sight, he’s a really bad man. Only he’s the worst villain in the entire movie. There’s no character. And Forsythe, in an extremely physical performance, seems asleep at the wheel. He’s not bringing anything to the movie either.

Flynn directs the action scenes rather well. Whenever Seagal gets to do some martial arts, Flynn is careful to showcase them, not just for the theatrical exhibition, but also for the eventual home viewers. Flynn’s ability to fill the frame while keeping it 4:3 safe is significant. Out for Justice is a very professional package. Technically, the film’s nearly completely fine (except the montages). It’s just dumb and inconsequential.

It couldn’t be any better, but it could be a lot worse. And there is a lot of solid acting throughout; not to mention the nostalgia value of familiar faces.

So, like I said, I didn’t dislike the experience of watching Out for Justice. I just didn’t like anything about that experience.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Flynn; written by David Lee Henry; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Don Brochu and Robert A. Ferretti; music by David Michael Frank; production designer, Gene Rudolf; produced by Arnold Kopelson and Steven Seagal; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Det. Gino Felino), William Forsythe (Richie Madano), Jerry Orbach (Capt. Ronnie Donziger), Jo Champa (Vicky Felino), Shareen Mitchell (Laurie Lupo), Sal Richards (Frankie), Gina Gershon (Patti Madano), Anthony DeSando (Vinnie Madano), Dominic Chianese (Mr. Madano), Julianna Margulies (Rica), Shannon Whirry (Terry Malloy) and Ronald Maccone (Don Vittorio).


Traveller (1997, Jack N. Green)

Besides Mark Wahlberg, it’s hard to say where Traveller goes wrong. There are some problems with Jim McGlynn’s script, but they’re mostly little ones. Julianna Margulies’s character’s name isn’t repeated enough, leaving her as “Carol from ‘ER'” for a lot of the movie. And even Wahlberg improves somewhat. He’s utterly incapable of humility; sometimes it’s all right, but it’s often not. By the end though, he manages to be likable if insincere.

What Traveller does have going for it is a good leading man performance from Bill Paxton, an utterly fantastic supporting turn from James Gammon and fine direction from Jack N. Green.

And even though McGlynn’s script does have its strengths, whether in plotting or scenes, the relationship between Paxton and Wahlberg (as mentor and protege) never takes off. Traveller‘s about a band of southern Irish con men and the film never shows Wahlberg learn the tricks. Instead, it shows before and after. There’s a significant puzzle piece missing.

McGlynn’s so lazy with naming the characters on screen it’s impossible to identify the heavy who comes into the picture towards the end. That actor (maybe Andrew Porter) is utterly fantastic.

As for the rest of the cast, Margulies is more appealing than she is good. She really has nothing to do. Luke Askew does well as the boss.

Traveller‘s got a great concept, great cast (except Wahlberg) and great crew… but the script’s failings leave them all floundering.

It’s unfortunate; Green, who shoots Traveller too, does an exemplary job.

1/4

CREDITS

Photographed and directed by Jack N. Green; written by Jim McGlynn; edited by Michael Ruscio; music by Andy Paley; production designer, Michael Helmy; produced by Bill Paxton, Brian Swardstrom, Mickey Liddell and David Blocker; released by October Films.

Starring Bill Paxton (Bokky), Mark Wahlberg (Pat), Julianna Margulies (Jean), James Gammon (Double D), Luke Askew (Boss Jack), Nikki Deloach (Kate), Danielle Keaton (Shane), Michael Shaner (Lip), Vincent Chase (Bimbo), Andrew Porter (Pincher) and Jean Speegle Howard (Bokky’s Grandmother).


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