Showtime

The Quiet Room (1993, Steven Soderbergh)

The Quiet Room really, really, really, relies on its twist. The ending is really predictable too; like, director Soderbergh and writer Howard A. Rodman do way too well on the foreshadowing. Because Room is a slightly exaggerated noir–part of the “Fallen Angels” TV anthology–nothing really needs to be foreshadowed. There’s a twist Soderbergh and Rodman set up in the first third, the end just delivers on it in an extreme way. Two twists for the price (or time) of one.

By the last third, when it’s just the countdown to the reveal, both lead performances softly crater. Soderbergh makes sure the lovely Emmanuel Lubezki and luscious Armin Ganz production design slow the descent. But the descent is inevitable because it’s just a noir TV anthology episode. With a source short story. And a somewhat salacious twist, at least as far as noir goes; if Quiet Room were going for homage, it might work better. Instead, it tries to be something different.

Joe Mantegna and Bonnie Bedelia are dirty cops. They’re having a love affair, which no one knows about; besides them, the only significant character is Mantegna’s teenage daughter, Vinessa Shaw (in the most important performance and the consistently worst). Mantegna is a single dad, out all hours because he and Bedelia have a shakedown racket going. Bedelia collars prostitutes and then beats information out of them about their johns so Mantegna can go and shake down the johns. Peter Gallagher has what seems like a great cameo as one of them, but then J.E. Freeman is one of the other ones and he’s freaking amazing in a much smaller role. Freeman walks away with the whole thing. Especially given how it finishes up.

Mantegna is mostly all right. He really whiffs when he needs to make it work. Bedelia’s better. Neither of them get good roles though. It’s all about Freeman though, performance-wise.

Soderbergh’s direction is fine. He’s got a handful of nice shots and does well with the actors. Sometimes well with the actors. There’s only so much to do with the script, especially as it starts barreling towards the inevitable conclusion. Soderbergh doesn’t do anything to slow its descent, much less stop it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Soderbergh; teleplay by Howard A. Rodman, based on a short story by Frank E. Smith; “Fallen Angels” created by William Horberg; director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Stan Salfas; music by Peter Bernstein; production designer, Armin Ganz; produced by Horberg, Lindsay Doran and Steve Golin; released by Showtime Networks.

Starring Joe Mantegna (Carl Streeter), Bonnie Bedelia (Sally Creighton), Vinessa Shaw (Jeannie Streeter), Patrick Breen (Doc), J.E. Freeman (Johnny Cabe), and Peter Gallagher (Dr. Yorgrau).


Dead-End for Delia (1993, Phil Joanou)

Director Joanou definitely familiarized himself with film noir before directing Dead-End for Delia (an episode of noir anthology “Fallen Angels”) but apparently didn’t realized doing it in color would break the shots. Especially since cinematographer Declan Quinn often just boosts the contrast to hide modern background elements.

But Scott Frank’s script is also a problem. He and Joanou play up the film noir homage to an absurd level, with Gary Oldman walking around in a coat too big for him like it’s a B noir from the fifties and not something with a budget. Frank’s script (it’s based on a short story) has a couple nice moments, but the twist is obvious and weak.

Ditto the acting. Gabrielle Anwar’s terrible as the titular character and Oldman ranges from mediocre to bored. Meg Tilly, Vondie Curtis-Hall and Paul Guilfoyle do provide nice supporting work though.

Besides them, there’s nothing here.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Joanou; teleplay by Scott Frank, based on the story by William Campbell Gault; “Fallen Angels” created by William Horberg; director of photography, Declan Quinn; edited by Stan Salfas; production designer, Armin Ganz; produced by Horberg, Lindsay Doran and Steve Golin; released by Showtime Networks.

Starring Gary Oldman (Pat Keiley), Meg Tilly (Lois Weldon), Paul Guilfoyle (Steve Prokowski), Vondie Curtis-Hall (David O’Connor), Dan Hedaya (Lt. Calender), Wayne Knight (Leo Cunningham), Patrick Masset (Joe Helgeson), John Putch (Officer Barnes) and Gabrielle Anwar (Delia).


Lake Consequence (1993, Rafael Eisenman)

For a late night cable movie–how’s that description for a euphemism–Lake Consequence is shockingly okay. It runs ninety minutes (to facilitate more airings, undoubtedly) and it actually runs too long. The film’s at its best during the final third, when hunky tree trimmer Billy Zane has to get the bored housewife he’s been dallying around with (Joan Severance) back to her family.

Actually, without the middle, where Severance gets sucked into Zane’s absurdly sensual lifestyle–which includes Hollie L. Hummel as Zane’s lady friend and a small California mountain town entirely populated by Chinese people–it might even be good. Why is this small town important? So there can be a parade and a bathhouse and truly some amazing editing.

That sensual middle is a narrative waste of time and lengthy enough it plods, but between Harris Savides’s photography, the editing from James Gavin Bedford and Curtis Edge and George S. Clinton’s score, it’s wonderful filmmaking. Besides being too long, the problem–at least as far as how the narrative incorporates it–is the symbolism. Director Eisenman–and, to be fair, the script–goes overboard with the symbolism. Instead of Severance getting to act, she instead makes outlandish symbolic gestures.

They’re way too much and they drag the movie down. Until she and Zane get on the road, anyway.

Zane’s good in the mysterious romance novel stranger role, Severance is good, Hummel is terrible (so’s her part). Whip Hubley’s awful as Severance’s husband.

Consequence is accomplished (with qualifications).

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Rafael Eisenman; screenplay by Zalman King, Melanie Finn and Henry Cobbold, based on a story by MacGregor Douglas; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by James Gavin Bedford and Curtis Edge; music by George S. Clinton; production designer, Dominic Watkins; produced by Avram ‘Butch’ Kaplan; aired by Showtime.

Starring Billy Zane (Billy), Joan Severance (Irene), Hollie L. Hummel (Grace), Courtland Mead (Christopher), Dan Reed (Xiao) and Whip Hubley (Jim).


The Westing Game (1997, Terence H. Winkless)

The Westing Game might be the perfect example of why a novel should never be turned into a movie. There are a lot of examples of the inverse, but watching Westing Game… it’s hard to imagine ever wanting to see a book adapted into a film again.

There are no redeeming qualities to the film, unless one wants to count Lewis Arquette not being atrocious like everyone else. Dylan Kelsey Hadley’s script is so bad, not even Ray Walston can deliver his lines well. Watching the movie, there’s not much to do besides pick out the worst performances.

What’s extraordinary about the film is how often director Winkless invites the viewer to laugh at the characters. Jim Lau’s Chinese restauranteur is a stereotype from the forties, Sally Kirkland’s neurotic, spinster secretary plays like… wait, I figured it out. Winkless and Hadley aren’t so much interested in adapting a novel as they are turning an episode of “Scooby Doo” into a movie.

A really bad episode of “Scooby Doo.”

The source novel is technically a kids’ book–it won the Newbery Medal, which is for juvenile fiction–so I assume the adaptation’s target audience is kids. Really dumb kids. The movie follows around Ashley Peldon, who’s tragically precocious and wise beyond her years.

It’s a big mistake, as Peldon’s awful. Though she’s not as bad as June Christopher, Diane Nadeau or Sandy Faison. The less said about Shane West–who plays a surprisingly fit disabled kid–the better.

Westing is atrocious.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Terence H. Winkless; screenplay by Dylan Kelsey Hadley, based on the novel by Ellen Raskin; director of photography, Kurt Brabbee; edited by Jim Makiej; music by Pamela Fuller; production designer, Stuart Blatt; produced by Julie Corman; released by Showtime.

Starring Ashley Peldon (Turtle Wexler), Diane Ladd (Berthe Erica Crow), Sally Kirkland (Sydelle Pulaski), Cliff De Young (Jake Wexler), Sandy Faison (Grace Wexler), June Christopher (Judge J.J. Ford), Lewis Arquette (Otis Amber), Diane Nadeau (Angela Wexler), Billy Morrissette (Edgar Plum), Jim Lau (James Shin Hoo), Shane West (Chris Theodorakis), Ernest Liu (Doug Hoo) and Ray Walston (Sandy McSouthers).


Gold Coast (1997, Peter Weller)

I was going to start saying the amount of Elmore Leonard adaptations had dwindled, peaking after soon Get Shorty, Out of Sight and Jackie Brown. However, it appears Leonard adaptations are a mainstay, whether theatrically or–mostly–on television. Gold Coast actually might not even have come from that period (except David Caruso’s hero is in the Out of Sight mold), given director Peter Weller’s experience with Leonard (starring in an adaptation scripted by Leonard) on Cat Chaser. But whatever. More interestingly–and more depressingly–Gold Coast was supposed to kick off Weller’s career as a director, but then he dropped out of his first theatrical (Incognito). It’s too bad, because even though there a few broken moments in the film, Weller does a good job. The worst broken moment is a car shot, on the hood, Caruso driving, the moving landscape visible, through the driver-side window, behind him. The camera’s tilted and it’s clear what kind of shot it’s supposed to be and it doesn’t work because it’s not a Cars music video. It actually reminds me a lot of Sin City or something along those lines. Or a Cars music video. Otherwise, besides a handful of bad cuts, Weller does well. His handling is scary when it needs to be and delicate and tender and sad when it needs to be.

Caruso doesn’t hurt. Gold Coast features his best leading man work, even if the script occasionally fails him. Caruso’s the lead in Gold Coast in a movie star kind of way–much like Clooney in Out of Sight or Travolta in Get Shorty, which is what makes Gold Coast feel like a Leonard adaptation as opposed to a mean-spirited Carl Hiaasen–and the script does everything it can to sabotage the film as an excellent character study. Caruso and Weller seem to work very well together–the best directed scenes are either the ones with Caruso or with scene-chewing villain Jeff Kober–and the potential for the film really comes out, in the second half, when Caruso’s free of Marg Helgenberger’s clutches. Caruso’s fine in the scenes with Helgenberger, she’s exceptionally bad. She’s exceptionally bad throughout and the only thing keeping her from ruining the film is the other actors.

I can’t forget Kober, but I need to get the script out of the way. The film ought to be about a man who helps a woman who is in trouble, but Gold Coast gets so wrapped up in all the details about the woman’s trouble–wasting time going over it and over it–it loses the basic idea. It’s almost as much about Helgenberger’s maid as it is anyone else. And these characters aren’t quirkily amusing, they’re defined by the harm Kober’s villain threatens to do to them. It’s a mess. A solid Scott Frank rewrite and a real female lead would have turned Cold Coast into something fantastic.

Kober’s crazy villain is, strangely, just the kind of role Weller probably would have broken out with if he’d ever done one. Caruso’s got to be reserved, because if he tried to make any noise, Koger would just drown him out. Fantastic villain.

Rafael Báez and Wanda De Jesus are both very good as well. The scenes they’re in with Caruso are excellent, indicative of a much better film. (The less said about Richard Bradford’s embarrassing cameo the better).

So, in conclusion, get rid of Helgenberger and fix the script and Gold Coast might have been something. As it stands, it’s a fine show of Weller’s promise as a director and it’s a great Caruso performance.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Weller; screenplay by Harley Peyton, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard; director of photography, Jacek Laskus; edited by Dean Goodhill; music by Peter Harris; production designer, Maria Rebman Caso; produced by Richard Maynard, Jana Sue Mernel and Weller; aired by Showtime.

Starring David Caruso (Maguire), Marg Helgenberger (Karen DiCilia), Jeff Kober (Roland Crowe), Barry Primus (Ed Grossi), Wanda De Jesus (Vivian), Richard Bradford (Frank DiCilia), Rafael Báez (Jesus) and Melissa Hickey (Martha).


Rainbow Drive (1990, Bobby Roth)

Peter Weller’s an L.A. cop with an in-ground swimming pool and a case his bosses don’t want him to solve. So what’s he going to do? He’s going to solve it, boring the viewer to sleep while he does too. It’s not Weller’s fault. It’s the script. And the direction, but I’ll get to it in a minute. The script has this wonderful, unspeakably awful way of every time a character talks to another character, they refer to that other character by name. It’s like the screenwriters went to a seminar and heard the use of names is good for emphasis. Revealing emphasis or some such nonsense.

I had intended starting this post with a comparison between made-for-cable cop mysteries with b-movies from the 1950s, but Rainbow Drive is so bad–well, I guess, it’s bad like most of those 1950s b-movies. Besides the terrible script, and the inability to make a case of Chinatown-level confusion worth unraveling, it’s director obviously thinks in terms of television sets. Bobby Roth directed one episode of “Miami Vice” and, with his Tangerine Dream score going in Drive, thinks he’s Michael Mann. To say he’s not is such an understatement, it’s not worth exploring. TV movies do not have to look like TV shows. Orson Welles composed quite a bit in 4:3 and it doesn’t look like a TV show. Roth’s also a terrible director of actors. Rainbow Drive has familiar faces saying bad lines and generally embarrassing themselves, particularly Bruce Weitz.

I could try to defend Weller’s performance in this one, but it’s pretty damn bad. David Caruso’s real good though, back when he acted. He takes a noteless role and makes it interesting to watch.

On the plus side, however, some of the second unit shots on L.A. are cool looking.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bobby Roth; screenplay by Bill Phillips and Bennett Cohen, from a novel by Roderick Thorp; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Henk Van Eeghen; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, Claudio Guzman; produced by John Veitch; aired by Showtime.

Starring Peter Weller (Mike Gallagher), Sela Ward (Laura Demming), David Caruso (Larry Hammond), Tony Jay (Max Hollister), James Laurenson (Hans Roehrig), Jon Gries (Azzolini), Henry G. Sanders (Marvin Burgess), Chris Mulkey (Ira Rosenberg), David Neidorf (Bernie Maxwell), Bruce Weitz (Dan Crawford), Chelcie Ross (Tom Cutler), Rutanya Alda (Marge Crawford), Megan Mullally (Ava Zieff) and Kathryn Harrold (Christine).


Speak (2004, Jessica Sharzer)

I love reviewing the unexpected film, I love finding new filmmakers to watch. Still, I find Speak odd choice. I only bookmarked the film because D.B. Sweeney and Elizabeth Perkins play a married couple (I have a soft-spot for both)….

I first read about the film because of its broadcasting–it’s not a TV movie, but IMDb lists it as such. Showtime and Lifetime picked it up off the festival circuit and showed it simultaneously. I’m having a hard time constructing a review of the film (and hey, it was one I was going to simul-post on Blogcritics too), just because I don’t know how to talk about it without giving “it” away and the film does try to keep the viewer in a reasonable dark. Except it’s an adaptation of a young adult novel, but I’m not sure how many of my readers keep up with that medium.

I can say, nice and easy, that the lead, Kristen Stewart, is great. The only thing else I’ve seen her in was Panic Room and I don’t know if she was in the fifteen minutes I stayed in the theater for that one. Steve Zahn is not great. He’s trying way too hard and I had to look it up to remember that Out of Sight made him. Director and co-writer Jessica Sharzer has a great feel for directing. There are nice echoes throughout the film–which could, I suppose, be from the book, but I doubt it, because they seem so reflexive. Some people just know how long to hold a shot, how long to keep the music going, Sharzer seems to be one of those folks. Sometimes, however, the running time–ninety minutes–starts bumping into what the film wants to do and it hurts. But Sharzer tells a whole school year in ninety minutes and I buy it. There’s a lot in the film I don’t (and it’s not just because I’m a stickler about long present action), and that’s when the acting and Sharzer’s feel for directing come in.

Speak‘s a rewarding experience to be sure–there are just too many beautiful, quiet moments in it for the film not to be, particularly the relationship between the Stewart and her parents (Sweeney and Perkins). It reminds me of something I read about Rebecca Miller’s Personal Velocity, an online critic calling it a “Lifetime movie,” which made me think I need to see more Lifetime movies then. Speak isn’t exactly a Lifetime movie and it’s no Personal Velocity, but it’s good.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jessica Sharzer; screenplay by Sharzer and Annie Young Frisbie, based on the novel by Laurie Halse Anderson; director of photography, Andrij Parekh; edited by Peter C. Frank; music by Christopher Libertino; production designer, Laura Ballinger; produced by Fred Berner, Matthew Myers and Matt Myers; released by Showtime Networks.

Starring Kristen Stewart (Melinda Sordino), Michael Angarano (Dave Petrakis), Robert John Burke (Mr. Neck), Hallee Hirsh (Rachel Bruin), Eric Lively (Andy Evans), Leslie Lyles (Hairwoman), Elizabeth Perkins (Joyce Sordino), Allison Siko (Heather), D.B. Sweeney (Jack Sordino) and Steve Zahn (Mr. Freeman).


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