Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 26, 2017


Here's my second round up of new and recent films with reviews-in-brief:

Don't Look Down (aka Wes Craven Presents Don't Look Down/1998 telefilm.) Director: Larry Shaw. A woman (Megan Ward) whose sister died in a terrible fall joins a group of acrophobes to see if she can get over her terror of heights. One by one members of the group start getting murdered. Don't Look Down has a great premise, lots of suspense, and is well-acted by an interesting supporting cast. Billy Burke is also fine as the heroine's supportive husband. ***.

Dead Tone (2007). Director: Brian Hooks and Dean Taylor. Hardly a cliche goes unrecorded in this late slasher movie where a madman with an ax is on the loose at a party in a mansion where the guests are mostly unpleasant and obnoxious, including a host of black stereotypes and one ludicrously caricatured gay man, who play a cruel phone game as if they were eight years old. The movie is half over before it gets going, and then there's plenty of decently-staged if unexceptional gore and action. There are lots of loose ends but an interesting resolution and a final bit that sort of rips off the ending of Night of the Living Dead. Whatever its flaws -- and there are many -- Dead Tone has some interesting elements to it, and a notable performance by Wil Horneff. **1/2.

1408 (2007). Director Mikael Hafstrom. John Cusack plays a man who debunks the supernatural but comes up squarely against it in a haunted hotel room. Cusack seems to have abandoned his wife after their daughter died. The movie features the usual standard horror conventions, and is well-done and well-acted on that level. But the sappy religiosity of the ending is rather off-putting. Based on a story by Stephen King. **1/2.

Unknown (2011). Director: Jaume Collet-Serra. Liam Neeson stars as a doctor whose identity is seemingly stolen from him. An interesting premise basically turns into a Liam Neeson Action Movie, but is okay on that level. However, the ending is so morally bankrupt as to be appalling. **1/2.

Closed Circuit (2013). Director: John Crowley. In London a pair of former lovers (Eric Bana; Rebecca Hall) work to defend an accused terrorist against much disapproval and opposition, and discover there may be much more to the man than meets the eye. You'd like to be both outraged and moved by this story of a monstrous cover-up, but the movie is so pedestrian on virtually every level, with such over-familiar and cliched elements, that it hardly works at all. **.

Solo (2013). Writer/director: Isaac Cravit. A young woman is hired as a camp counselor and is told that she must spend two days alone on an island as preparation. Even if you buy this premise, the movie doesn't amount to much. Naturally some strange things happen on the island, but nothing you haven't seen many times before. This comes off like a polished student film that probably should have never been released. **. 

Careful What You Wish For (2015). Director: Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum. A teenage boy (Nick Jonas) enters into an affair with a married older woman (Isabel Lucas) but when someone turns up dead both the local sheriff (Paul Sorvino) and an insurance investigator (Kandyse McClure) have their suspicions. Chris Frisina's screenplay is an unoriginal mass of cliches, including a somewhat anti-LGBT revelation (however unintended). The final twist has been done before more than once. The film isn't boring, the acting is good, but Rosenbaum's direction betrays no skill at all with the thriller/suspense genre. **.

Harbinger Down (2015). Writer/director: Alec Gillis. Lance Henriksen and the crew of his ship discover the remains of a Soviet moon capsule whose dead passenger has been infected by a strange mutated species. Before you can say The Thing or Alien, the creature bursts out and starts infecting the others. Henriksen gives a good performance, the special effects are excellent, but the movie is staggeringly unoriginal, and there's absolutely no flair to the direction. **.

And Then There Were None (2015). Director: Craig Vivieros. This three-part television adaptation of the venerable Agatha Christie novel -- the most recent of several -- adds some interesting facets to the story, turns one character into a nasty self-hating lesbian, features a tiresome sex scene, and despite its grimness almost becomes comical at times. The pace is slow and the direction unimaginative, but it manages to hold the attention due to the situations if nothing else. Charles Dance is a stand-out in a rather good cast, and it has an excellent finale. ***.

Don't Breathe. (2016). Director: Fede Alvarez. Three amoral young people who break into the home of a blind man hoping he keeps all of his cash in his home (!) get more than they bargained for when they discover he's more formidable than they realized. Entertaining enough, but hardly "the greatest horror movie in fifty years," as one person claimed. **1/2.

Star Trek Beyond (2016). Director: Justin Lin. The third in the alternate timeline Star Trek movies has the Enterprise trying to rescue an alien crew by entering an uncharted Nebula and encountering a bad guy who isn't at all interesting until the film's final minutes. The story is weak, script mediocre, and the action not always well-orchestrated, but it does have a very exciting climax. I had to go back and check out the scene where it is revealed that Sulu has a husband, as it's over so quickly many people missed it. Apparently some viewers, including George Takei, were upset that Sulu was made gay, but if Spock and Lt. Uhura are lovers in this version, why can't Sulu be gay? Anyway, if the movie had been better this aspect may not have gotten so much attention. **1/2.

And special mention to:

Stolen Lives (aka Stolen/2009). Director: Anders Anderson. Detective Tom Adkins (Jon Hamm of Mad Men), still searching for his little boy who disappeared some years before, finds the remains of another child who died decades earlier and investigates. A parallel story told in flashback deals with that dead little boy and his father (Josh Lucas) and the heartbreak and guilt that he has to endure. Both stories come together at the end. Beautifully acted by Hamm, Lucas, James Van Der Beek and the rest of an excellent cast, this is difficult to sit through at times as the pain of the characters is so wrenchingly depicted, but it's still a worthwhile journey through an agonizing landscape. ***1/2.

No comments: