Category Archives: Not Recommended

Something for an Empty Briefcase (1953, Don Medford)

For a while, it seems like Something for an Empty Briefcase is going to have some grit. It’s set in a rough New York neighborhood, albeit constructed out of cardboard (Briefcase is a “TV play”). Lead James Dean is a recently released ex-con who’s looking for one big score to get him into a new life. So it’s strange when it turns out that big score is mugging Ohioan immigrant Susan Douglas Rubes. She’s willing to risk her well-being to pursue her ballet dreams. Dean’s just looking for a score. And a Briefcase. He really wants a briefcase.

It later turns out Dean’s a great pool hustler so there’s no reason he’d have to mug Rubes or anyone else. But S. Lee Pogostin’s teleplay is pretty weak. Dean’s got some great scenes in the first half and Rubes seems like she’s going to have some good material, but it all goes in the second half.

Instead of being about Dean and Rubes, it’s about Dean and local crime lord Robert Middleton. Dean wants out. Middleton won’t let him out. And previously mildly annoying didactic themes increase until they’re drowning out everything else. Dean’s performance suffers, though nowhere near as bad as Rubes’s.

Dean’s supposed to be a numbskull punk, Rubes is the one smart enough to make her dreams happen. But she gives him a dictionary (for his Briefcase) and it changes his life. Well, not as much as the next book he gets. No spoilers but it’s real obvious.

The writing for Dean and Rubes is uneven the first half, but not bad. Both actors do well with it, though Dean gets a little erratic at times. Director Medford follows Dean through his performance, not really directing him. Well, hopefully he’s not directing him because the histronics are way too loud. Also because Pogostin’s writing isn’t there.

Something for an Empty Briefcase is almost half good, which isn’t bad all things considered.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Don Medford; television play by S. Lee Pogostin; “Campbell Summer Soundstage” produced by Martin Horrell; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring James Dean (Joe), Susan Douglas Rubes (Noli), Don Hanmer (Mickey), Robert Middleton (Sloane), Frank Maxwell (Lou), and Peter Gumeny (The Policeman).


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Vesper (2017, Keyvan Sheikhalishahi)

Vesper has something like six “gotcha” reveals, which is a lot for a killer. Especially since Vesper runs twenty-three minutes. And the first gotcha is in the first five minutes. The experience of watching the film quickly becomes waiting for director Sheikhalishahi to spring another one.

The story has (maybe) agoraphobic Agnès Godey being stalked by ex-husband Götz Otto (or is she?). Her nephew, played by Sheikhalishahi, comes to visit her. He suffers from photophobia (or does he?) and gets involved. Godey is also being haunted by a spectre of Otto (or is… you get the idea), which she fails to reveal to Sheikhalishahi (or… you already got it, sorry).

Sheikhalishahi’s direction is pretty good. He’s a little too obvious in his thriller moods–especially with Gréco Casadesus’s overbearing score–and Jean-Claude Aumont’s photography, while gorgeous, is all wrong for what Sheikhalishahi’s trying to do. Aumont gives luscious reality while the characters exist in Gothic nightmare.

Sheikhalishahi’s script is a mess, though at least consistent, I suppose.

Godey’s okay when the script’s okay, which tends to be when she’s opposite Sheikhalishahi. He’s not good in those scenes, but whatever. It’s just nice to see Godey doing well by then. Otto’s in a similar boat. He’s better when the script’s better; he gets a great villain showdown beach scene with would-be hero Sheikhalishahi. Unfortunately, it doesn’t signal a change in the narrative, which just goes back to being gotcha-happy.

With the strong production values, the technical excellences, and the competent performances, Vesper ought to be a lot better. It’s a shame about the script.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written, directed, and produced by Keyvan Sheikhalishahi; director of photography, Jean-Claude Aumont; edited by Marie-Jo Nenert; music by Gréco Casadesus; production designer, Sheikhalishahi.

Starring Götz Otto (Walter), Agnès Godey (Marge), and Keyvan Sheikhalishahi (Christian).


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Alexander the Great (1963, Phil Karlson)

Had Alexander the Great gone to series instead of just being a passed over pilot and footnote in many recognizable actors filmographies, it seems likely the series would’ve had William Shatner’s Alexander continue his conquest of the Persian Empire. The pilot is this strange mix of occasional action, Greek generals arguing, and battle footage from Italian epics. The Utah location shooting is great, but director Karlson’s bad at the direction. John Cassavetes, Joseph Cotten, and Simon Oakland play the arguing generals. They can argue. But Robert Pirosh and William Robert Yates’s teleplay is lacking.

And there’s nothing to be done about integrating that battle footage. If Alexander the Great is going to be talking heads, which Karlson definitely directs better than the action, the action is going to have to be spectacular. And it’s not. There’s some tension with it in the original footage, but the reused stuff? The pilot doesn’t get any mileage out of it.

Cassavetes is pretty cool as this disagreeable young general. By cool, I mean he’s good at the yelling. His character yells. Cotten’s character counsels. Cotten’s good at the counseling. But the pilot doesn’t really know what to do with Shatner. It’s called Alexander the Great and everyone’s a lot more comfortable dealing with Cassavetes’s hurt feelings. Shatner’s appealing and he manages to get through the overdone dialogue, but he’s got no character.

He’s got a love interest–Ziva Rodann–and a sidekick–Adam West–but Pirosh and Yates don’t give either any attention in the script. Rodann’s biggest scene is with Cotten and West is part of the set decoration. Though he gets enough closeups to suggest he’d played a bigger part in the series.

It’s a long fifty minutes. The recycled battle footage and some red herrings drag it out too. It’s kind of too bad, for Alexander, but good for the rest of us it didn’t get picked up.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Karlson; teleplay by Robert Pirosh and William Robert Yates, based on a story by Pirosh; director of photography, Lester Shorr; music by Leonard Rosenman; produced by Albert McCleery; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring William Shatner (Alexander), Joseph Cotten (Antigonus), John Cassavetes (Karonos), Adam West (Cleander), Simon Oakland (Attalos), Ziva Rodann (Ada), John Doucette (Kleitos), Robert Fortier (Aristander), Peter Hansen (Tauron), and Cliff Osmond (Memnon).


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Literal Bohemian Rhapsody (2016, Sam Gorski and Niko Pueringer)

Literal Bohemian Rhapsody is the filler footage for a bad music video for the Queen song, Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s literal, so Jeff Schine is actually running around telling his mother things and shooting people and whatever.

Except he doesn’t shoot the guy right. Because a lot of Literal is just stock footage.

It might work better as an actual commercial for the stock footage place, actually. As its own adaptation of the song, it’s severely lacking. There’s creative enthusiasm from directors Gorski and Pueringer, but it’s simultaneously truncated and stuck. Everything in Literal is about the gimmick. So it doesn’t matter if Schine and Deborah Ramaglia (playing, you know, “Mama”) aren’t good. Though Ramaglia is fine. Schine isn’t, but who knows if it’s his fault or it’s just because it’s a cute, bad idea.

Once Gorski and Pueringer reveal the second setting, it’s all kind of pointless. Sure, they can do it. So what. If it were part of a demo reel, if Beelzebub actually showed up, if it had a Wayne’s World reference, it might be something. Instead, it’s proof of concept. Magnifico-o-o-o-o.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Gorski and Niko Pueringer; screenplay by Gorski and Pueringer, based on the song by Freddie Mercury; produced by Gorski, Pueringer, and Jake Watson; released by Corridor Digital.

Starring Jeff Schine (Freddie) and Deborah Ramaglia (Mama).


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